Let's get weird: To get him back on track, give Darnell Savage a shot playing in the slot
With Aaron Rodgers and the offensive struggling so aggressively against the Lions, the defensive performance went mostly unnoticed. Joe Barry’s crew held an explosive Detroit offense to a scant 15 points at home where this team has been restoring the roar, at least scoring the ball, all season. But one player remains out of place. Former first-round pick Darnell Savage looks lost, not playing with the force and verve that marked his college tape at Maryland or his early career play in Green Bay. With the injury to Eric Stokes forcing Rasul Douglas back outside (where he belongs), the Packers can turn to Savage’s old position to try to get him back on track.
Of 86 qualifying safeties for Pro Football Focus grades, Savage checks in 80th in defensive grade and coverage grade. He’s never looked comfortable as a half-field safety in quarters or Cover-2 going back his entire career playing the deep half. And lately, he’s looked tentative and reluctant coming downhill as a tackler.
It’s been brutal. But that hasn’t always been the case.
At Maryland he played from depth with some regularity, though often wide over the slot. Wide hashes and spread college offenses necessitates that alignment, but it also plays to his strengths. He’s not going to take on blocks or weave through traffic, but when he sees the play cleanly, his explosive athleticism is undeniable.
And it’s not just at Maryland where we saw this, though Savage was one of the highest graded slot players in college football his final season with the Terps. Where he’s at his best is as a lurk defender in the flat or the middle of the field. His best plays as a Packer, when he was creating turnovers at an absurd rate in the second half of 2020, came as the robber in Mike Pettine’s Cover-1 looks.