Big Plays Both Ways Define Secondary

The Packers have given up 1,343 net passing yards, a total that puts them on pace to surrender more yards than not only any Packers team in franchise history but any team, period. On the other hand, they're tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions.

Through four games, the Green Bay Packers' secondary ranks near the bottom in terms of yards given up through the air, yet they lead the league with eight interceptions after notching three more on Sunday.

So, should the focus be on the highlights or the plays in between?

On a sun-swept October day tailor made for football, Green Bay improved to 4-0 with a 49-23 thrashing of the Denver Broncos. Wile Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cashing in on a career day with six total touchdowns, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton got his pocket picked by Green Bay defenders Charles Woodson, Sam Shields and Charlie Peprah who each had an interception. Woodson took his 30 yards to the house at the end of the first quarter after jumping a route by Denver's Eric Decker.

"The hardest thing was catching it," Woodson said. "I feel like I bobbled it a little bit briefly and for a second thought I was going to drop it. Once I got it and I looked back and seen the receiver kind of stumbling, I knew I could get in. It's always exciting to get your hands on the ball, for one, but to know you're going to score, it's a great feeling.

"(As cornerbacks) We slow play it just to make sure the receiver is going to run the route you think he's going to run, and he did. I broke not thinking the ball was going to get thrown, but it did. I was able to make a play on it and get into the end zone."

That score moved Woodson into a tie for the No. 2 spot in NFL history with former Packer Darrens Sharper with 11 career interceptions returns for touchdowns. He trails Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson by just one score. It was also the 50th interception of his career.

 "It feels good," Woodson said. "When I think about coming into this league, I came in (wanting) to be somebody who would be remembered after they're done playing, and I think I've been able to do some great things in this game to assure that. I'm one step off of Rod. Fifty career picks is a huge deal for me. But … I don't feel like I'm done, by far. Hopefully, there's a lot more to come."

If not for Woodson's score, the most impressive takeaway of the day might've been by cornerback Sam Shields. He stole a potential touchdown from Denver's Brandon Lloyd and ran it out of the end zone for a 60-yard return. The Broncos were down 42-17 at the time, but it took nothing away from Shields' moves on the snag and return.

With just more than 2 minutes remaining and Denver hoping to make the margin more respectable, Orton was bestowed one final indignity, getting intercepted a third time on the afternoon — this time by Peprah.

Still, between those three big plays, Green Bay's secondary took some big hits. There was the beautifully sold flea-flicker that saw running back Knowshown Moreno dance in the hole, seemingly looking for a lane before spinning and tossing the ball back to Orton, who fired for 44 yards to a wide-open Lloyd. They'd score on the next play.

In all, Orton had 273 yards and three passing touchdowns, including a 33-yarder to Decker that was one of seven plays of 15 yards or more on the day. Lloyd also had a 50-yard reception wiped out by penalty midway through the second quarter on the drive where Orton found Decker for his long score.

On their way to 4-0, the Packers have given up 1,343 net passing yards to opposing quarterbacks, a total that puts them on pace to surrender more yards than not only any Packers team in franchise history but any team, period. They're on pace to allow 5,372 passing yards, with the team record being the 3,762 net passing yards allowed in 1983. The NFL record is 4,541 net passing yards allowed by the 1995 Falcons.

If not for the turnovers, Green Bay's defensive backs might find themselves in a United Airlines commercial for making the skies so friendly to fly.

"Takeaways are something we're always going to do, that we feel we are good at," Peprah said. "We need to do it more and stop giving up big plays. That's how I look at it. We feel we're a pressure defense and an opportunitistic defense, and we feel takeaways are something we need to do each game and give it back to our offense. (But) we've got to find a way to stop giving up the big plays and cut some of these stats for the opposing team down a little bit."

Or better yet, a lot. Green Bay is struggling to find a complementary pass rusher to linebacker Clay Matthews after the free agent departure of Cullen Jenkins. And the backfield is adjusting to the loss of Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins — though Collins was on the field when Drew Brees and Cam Newton put up big numbers. The effect both of those have had can't be understated. But it can't be an excuse, either.

"There's some things that we have to tighten up," Shields said. "Just getting everybody on the same page. It's getting there. But we have to keep working on that. It'll get better. At first, everybody wasn't on the same page, but it'll get better."

It has to.

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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at

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