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T.J. Slaton stacking days, making serious strides in Year 3

Packers defensive lineman keyed dominant showing against Minnesota’s run game

T.J. Slaton
T.J. Slaton

GREEN BAY – T.J. Slaton wasn't counting.

In the heat of battle, the Packers defensive lineman hadn't the slightest clue how many tackles he was racking up against the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday – let alone tackles for loss.

In what turned out to be a career day for the third-year veteran, however, Slaton accomplished something no other Green Bay defensive lineman had achieved more than a decade.

With nine tackles (four solo) and two tackles for loss, Slaton became the first Packers defensive lineman to register those totals in a game since former Green Bay run-stuffer Ryan Pickett posted the same numbers vs. Detroit on Dec. 12, 2010.

After finally reviewing the film, Slaton believes an argument could be made for more than just the two TFLs.

"It should've been four TFLs. You gotta tell the stat people," Slaton joked. "But nah, I didn't even know how many tackles I had or TFLs. I was just trying to play hard, keep the motor high, keep running to the ball and keep my energy high. Just go out there and have fun and play football. That's all it really was."

The fun-loving defensive lineman's dominant day buoyed the Packers' best showing of the season against the run, limiting Minnesota to just 62 yards on 31 carries (2.0 yards per attempt).

It marked only the fourth time since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger that Green Bay has allowed two or fewer yards per carry in a game with 30-plus opponent rushing attempts.

The most recent came against the Lions (33 carries for 64 yards) on Nov. 6, 2017. Coincidentally, the other two came within two weeks of each other during the 1978 season – at Minnesota (32-60) on Oct. 22, and at Philadelphia (30-51) on Nov. 5.

Green Bay was the first NFL team that allowed two or fewer yards per carry in a game with 30-plus opponent rushing attempts since Tampa Bay held New Orleans to 61 yards on 31 carries on Dec. 19, 2021.

"I thought the guys did a great job of defending the run and being physical," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "We talk about it every week, situational football – third down, red zones and stopping the run – those are massive emphases for us every single week. That was a great positive, us playing the run last week, no doubt."

In the heart of the defensive front, Slaton played a big role in the Packers stymying Vikings running backs Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers, who combined for just 50 yards on 25 carries.

The 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive lineman helped his unit get off the field on the first defensive series after stopping Mattison for no gain on first-and-10 from the Packers' 33. That was followed by two incomplete passes and a Greg Joseph missed field goal to keep the game scoreless.

Slaton dropped Akers for negative yards on two occasions, including a 2-yard tackle for loss in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, the Packers got the ball back after fellow defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt recovered a fumble off Preston Smith's strip sack of Minnesota backup quarterback Jaren Hall.

"My comfort and my confidence are really high," Slaton said. "I've always been a player who felt like no matter how many reps I get, I'm going to play hard. It doesn't matter how many snaps there is. If you're going to put me out there, I'm going to play. I'm going to give you my all."

A former fifth-round pick out of Florida, Slaton stepped into the starting lineup this season after tallying 54 tackles, two passes defensed and a sack while rotating in the past two years.

The 26-year-old defensive lineman has 23 tackles in seven starts this year and needs to play just 51 more snaps to surpass his total defensive workload (333) in 17 games last season.

Additionally, Slaton has developed into a core member of the Packers' field-goal block. In the fourth quarter against the Vikings, he and defensive lineman Karl Brooks combined to overwhelm the middle of Minnesota's protection.

Brooks ended up getting his hand on Joseph's 44-yard attempt, which safety Jonathan Owens returned 23 yards. In doing so, Brooks became just the second Green Bay rookie to block a field goal in the last 30 years.

The other? You guessed it. In his seventh NFL game in 2021, Slaton blocked a 42-yard Chris Blewitt field goal to keep Green Bay and Washington tied at 7.

"T.J.'s done a great job. He's been a force, especially in the run game," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "He's a big man that can move, and he's done a great job when he's been in there making splash plays.

"That's important for all these guys. You want to have a great defense, everybody's going to do their job and do it at a high level, and I think he's been able to do that."

Slaton and the defense know they still have plenty of work to do. While the Packers shut down the Vikings' run game, Minnesota still converted 10 third downs in a 24-10 win over Green Bay.

For the Packers' 26th-ranked run defense, it was a step in the right direction after a slow start to the season. Now, Green Bay hopes to build upon its successes against Minnesota when it welcomes the Los Angeles Rams to Lambeau Field this Sunday.

Slaton sees some schematic parallels between the Vikings and Rams, who have turned to veterans Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson in the backfield after Kyren Williams was recently placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

The two running backs combined for 75 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries during a 43-20 loss to Dallas.

"We gotta play knock-back football," Slaton said. "We're going to get off blocks. We're going to keep our eyes in the right place, trust our technique from there, and just give our best effort."

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