GREEN BAY – The Packers selected three defensive players in the first five rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The fingerprints of that trio – first-rounders LB Rashan Gary and S Darnell Savage, plus fifth-rounder DL Kingsley Keke – were all over the defensive effort in Green Bay's 27-17 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Not just on Keke's strip-sack and Gary's extra-effort takedown of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, either. Those were certainly two big-time highlights.
But a handful of other plays also showed the impact the Packers' class of '19 is making on defense. Here's a sampling.
Play No. 1: First-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 38, first quarter, 13:44 left
Result: No gain for RB Benny Snell Jr.
On the third snap of the game, give plenty of credit to LB Preston Smith (91) for beating the block of pulling LG Kevin Doston (69), forcing Snell to practically stop in his tracks. But watch the work of Darnell Savage (26) creeping up into the box and avoiding the block of TE Zach Gentry (81), as well as how Rashan Gary (52) pursues with a purpose from the back side to level Snell at the line of scrimmage.
Play No. 2: Second-and-6 from the Green Bay 47, first quarter, 10:57 left
Result: 2-yard completion to WR Ray-Ray McCloud
Savage's instincts and closing speed really stand out here as the receiver screen to McCloud (14) goes nowhere. He and CB Chandon Sullivan(39) prevent McCloud from getting started.
Play No. 3: Third-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 29, second quarter, 12:38 left
Result: Fumble recovered by DL Kenny Clark
OK, so nobody missed the defensive play of the game, set up by the impressive bull rush from Keke (96). But it's included here anyway because Gary actually provides a preview of the other play everybody saw, the superhuman sack he gets later on Roethlisberger.
Play No. 4: Third-and-8 from the Pittsburgh 20, third quarter, 7:12 left
Result: Incomplete pass
Keke is at it with his bull rush again, shoving Dotson so far back into the pocket that he bumps into Roethlisberger's hip as the short dump-off pass falls harmlessly to the turf and the Steelers have to punt.
Play No. 5: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 43, third quarter, :49 left
Result: 1-yard run by RB Najee Harris
This is an outstanding play against a double-team by DL Kenny Clark (97), and almost every game has a full highlight reel of work like this by Clark. Here, Gary plays a complementary role, aggressively taking on the block from pulling RG Trai Turner (51) – who outweighs him by nearly 40 pounds – and still getting in on the tackle.
Play No. 6: Third-and-4 from the Green Bay 37, fourth quarter, 15:00 left
Result: No gain on completion to WR Diontae Johnson
Once again, Savage's speed at closing the gap on a target is on prominent display. In this case, CB Isaac Yiadom (24) is blitzing off the corner and Savage is his coverage replacement. Johnson sits tight when Yiadom blitzes, but by the time he gets the ball from Roethlisberger, Savage is right there. He doesn't make the tackle, but he slows him up plenty for his teammates to clean up and get the stop.
Play No. 7: Second-and-6 from the Pittsburgh 41, fourth quarter, 12:10 left
Result: 3-yard run by Harris
One more from Gary against the run for good measure, as he starts with a hump move on LT Dan Moore Jr. (65) and then instantly changes direction to pursue Harris. Gary is able to still play the run on the way to the quarterback, and he gets Harris' knee down well short of the first down.