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Packers at the Bye: Inside Linebackers

With 12 games down and a fight for the No. 1 seed and the playoffs on the horizon, here’s the key at inside linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In 12 games, De’Vondre Campbell has 98 tackles, four tackles for losses, four passes defensed, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. It’s a 17-game season but that would be a 16-game pace of 131 tackles, 5.3 tackles for losses, 5.3 passes defensed, 2.7 interceptions and 2.7 forced fumbles.

The NFL has been keeping tackles-for-loss and fumble stats since 1999. Nobody – nobody – has ever had that kind of a season for the Green Bay Packers.

In fact, according to Stathead, only four Packers defenders have had a season of five-plus tackles for losses, two-plus interceptions and two-plus forced fumbles. Charles Woodson did it in 2009 and 2010, Clay Matthews in 2011 and Julius Peppers in 2014. Those three players didn’t even reach 100 tackles.

The only Packers defender with 100-plus tackles and those other thresholds was safety Morgan Burnett in 2012, who had 123 tackles, five tackles for losses, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

No linebacker – not Nick Barnett, not A.J. Hawk, not Desmond Bishop and not Blake Martinez – had the big-play production to go with their tackling numbers.

In fact, only 24 defenders over the past 22 seasons had a season of 130 tackles, five tackles for losses, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. That’s the rare air that Campbell is tracking toward.

” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after beating the Rams.

in Year 6, Campbell is in the midst of his best NFL season. He leads the Packers in tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions and forced fumbles. Of the top 60 in tackles, regardless of position, Campbell and Washington’s Cole Holcomb are the only players with a tally under sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

“Always respected him as a player, especially Atlanta,” Rodgers said. “Big, rangy guy who could play a number of spots. Could play the line of scrimmage and rush, could cover running backs out of the backfield, good blitzer. The thing you love about him is his approach and his attitude. Very steady guy, very consistent guy. As he’s made plays, that allows you the opportunity to have a greater leadership responsibility and more opportunities to speak up. I think guys have appreciated the way he’s responded.”

Campbell’s had only one season of 100-plus tackles. That was 2019, when he set personal bests with 129 tackles and three forced fumbles with the Falcons. After recording 99 tackles with Arizona last year, Campbell remained a free agent deep into June. The Packers signed him during the mandatory minicamp and wound up with the true three-down linebacker they’d lacked for years. He’s on pace for 139 tackles.

Martinez made a lot of tackles with the Packers, too, but he never played this caliber of football. In four seasons in Green Bay, Martinez had three interceptions and two forced fumbles – one more than Campbell’s combined total of four through about three-quarters of this season.

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Martinez’s average tackle with Green Bay was 2.7 yards downfield, and he averaged 15.5 missed tackles. According to Sports Info Solutions, Campbell is allowing 4.5 yards per target in the passing game and his average tackle has come 2.1 yards downfield. Of the 16 linebackers with at least 87 tackles, he’s No. 1 in yards per target, No. 3 in missed-tackle rate (4.9 percent; five misses) and tied for No. 7 in tackle distance.

Campbell gives the Packers the off-the-ball linebacker they lacked during trips to the NFC title game the past two seasons. Combined with the play of second-year player Krys Barnes, defensive coordinator Joe Barry has been able to play more traditional defenses than under his dime-heavy predecessor, Mike Pettine.

On his third team in three years and unwanted during the opening waves of free agency, what’s clicked for the 28-year-old who was voted NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October?

“Honestly, to get straight to the point, I’ve played in systems where linebackers are almost like defensive backs,” Campbell said. “You’re running with wide receivers all the time, you’re playing in man coverage. That’s something I can do – I’m very good at it – but this system just allows linebackers to be linebackers and defensive backs to be defensive backs, if that makes sense. That’s basically the biggest difference. It allows a linebacker to be a linebacker and make plays within the box area.”

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