Rudy Ford steps in at safety for Packers but impact on special teams is missed

The depth of the safety position was always one of the bigger question marks on this Green Bay Packers defense, and it may continue to be tested this week as Adrian Amos remains in concussion protocol.

Amos can come out of the protocols at any time once he is cleared, but it remains to be seen if that will be the case before the Packers take on the New York Giants in London this week.

Behind Amos and Darnell Savage on the depth chart are Rudy Ford, Dallin Leavitt, and Tariq Carpenter.

Ford has 594 career defensive snaps, according to PFF, with 423 coming last season. Leavitt, meanwhile, has 376 career defensive snaps of his own, with 255 coming in 2021. So it’s not as if either has never seen the field, but it’s quite clear that both are in Green Bay to be special teams players.

Prior to the season, GM Brian Gutekunst would mention that the Packers went “out of character” this offseason by signing players whose primary impact will most likely be on special teams. And while he didn’t mention Ford or Leavitt by name, you can include them in that group.

With the addition of Quay Walker at linebacker, and perhaps along with the question marks around the safety depth, the role of the third safety has all but disappeared from the Packers’ defense this season. But with Amos exiting last Sunday’s game early on, Ford was called upon.

In total, Ford played 44 defensive snaps, including 16 in the box and 24 at free safety, while totaling seven tackles, no misses, and allowing zero receptions on two targets. He was even the Packers’ second-highest graded defender by PFF’s metrics.

Overall, head coach Matt LaFleur was very pleased with Ford’s performance.

“I think he did an outstanding job. Playing with great effort first and foremost, but just doing his responsibility,” said LaFleur on Wednesday. “Certainly, you felt his presence out there in terms of his physicality; I want to say he had seven tackles. I thought he did a really good job.”

With Bailey Zappe at quarterback for New England, the Packers and Ford weren’t exactly facing a pass-first offense, and in all likelihood, that won’t be the case again this week, even if Daniel Jones is under center. Entering Week 4, the New York Giants, who are led by Saquon Barkley, rank fourth in rush attempts per game.

The trickle-down effect, however, of Ford taking defensive snaps is that he wasn’t utilized as often on the punt coverage unit, playing just nine total special teams snaps (or 28%) against the Patriots.

As the gunner, Ford played a key role in Tampa Bay, where we saw five of Pat O’Donnell’s seven punts downed inside the Tampa Bay 15-yard line. In a close game where field position was vital, Ford, O’Donnell, Keisean Nixon, and the rest of the Green Bay punt coverage team didn’t allow the field to flip.

This past Sunday, however, O’Donnell had just one fair catch on five attempts, along with a punt out of bounds and one ball downed. On the two return attempts, we saw Marcus Jones of the Patriots average 24.5 yards per return. For some context, 15.2 yards per punt return is the league high through four games this season. Ford’s absence may not be the sole reason for this, but it certainly didn’t help.

Ford held his own defensively on Sunday, but the depth of the safety position still remains an unknown, especially if the Packers find themselves without Amos against a pass-happy team. Green Bay may also feel the effects of Amos’ absence on special teams if they choose to take the same approach with Ford moving forward, as they did against New England.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire