Don't Put Too Much Into Leaky Pass Defense

That not only is the message of Dom Capers but of Falcons coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, who talked in a conference call on Wednesday. Four games is too small a sample size, Smith and Capers say, but it will be a huge challenge against a loaded passing attack.

For as great as Aaron Rodgers has been for the Green Bay Packers, this would seem to be an alarming statistic.

Rodgers has thrown for 1,325 yards. The Packers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for 1,426 yards.

However, coaches on both sides of Sunday's NFC showdown between the Packers and Atlanta Falcons aren't putting a lot of stock into statistical measurements just one-fourth of the way through the season.

"My experience here over the last two years, we've gotten better both years significantly, not only as a team but as a defense," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. "You think back to '09, our first year, we're 4-4 at midseason and we've had some tough games in terms of teams running the ball against us, that type of thing, and we got it flipped around and played as good a defense as anybody in the league that second half. Last year, the fourth game last year (against Detroit) I think we gave up big yardage. I think it was the biggest yardage of the season. We had a hard time getting off the field. But that's the challenge, not where you are but hopefully where you're heading. I am encouraged where we can go if we can keep people healthy and keep the same lineup out there and get a little continuity going."

Falcons coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, both of whom talked to Packers beat writers in a conference call on Wednesday, are putting more stock in the Packers' personnel than their lackluster performance. One-fourth of the way through the season, the Packers rank 28th in total defense. Their pass defense has been abysmal all season, and a run defense that ranked No. 1 in the league through Week 3 was gutted for 103 yards on just 15 attempts by Willis McGahee.

"They're a very talented team on defense," said Smith, who guided the Falcons to the NFC's best record at 13-3 last season. "I'm very impressed with the multiplicity that Coach Capers can present for the offenses. It's only through the first four games. You can't put a whole lot of stock into just four games into a season. I think over the long run, you're going to see that that defense is going to be one of the top defenses and playmaking defenses in the NFL. They've got a lot of talent."

What's troubling is Green Bay ranks 31st in the league against the pass and Atlanta boasts a high-octane passing offense. While the Falcons' corps of pass-catchers isn't as deep as Green Bay's, there's plenty of star power with Pro Bowler Ryan throwing to three-time Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White, prized rookie receiver Julio Jones and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. All three have at least 21 catches, with White tied for third in the NFL with 26 receptions, Jones leading all rookies with 24 catches and 342 yards and Gonzalez ranking second among NFL tight ends with four touchdowns.

Circumstances, however, have played a role in the Packers' leaky coverage. As Capers pointed out last week, the defense has been exposed to eight two-minute series, meaning plenty of soft coverages. Plus, outside of a sluggish first half at Carolina, the Packers have spent most of their season playing with a lead.

"They've been playing with a lead," said Ryan, who had two 300-yard games in addition to last week's 291-yard output. "They're seeing some different things from offenses. When you're ahead most of the game, you're going to see more passes, so it's going to change what they do defensively a little bit. Charles Woodson is still playing at a really high level. Tramon Williams is a good corner, played really well against us last year. Shields is doing a good job. These are guys you have to know where they're at and you have to play well against."

The numbers notwithstanding, there have been too many receivers running free through the Packers' secondary. Whether those mistakes can be fixed so the unit can be as air-tight as it played last season, when it led the league in opponent quarterback rating, remains to be seen. What is without question is the Packers desperately need to find some answers against an offense that not only can move the ball through the air but has a bruising runner in Michael Turner to provide outstanding balance.

The Packers have allowed 23 pass plays of 20-plus yards in the four games, tied for the second-most in the NFL. In all of last season, they allowed 44.

"To me, that's the biggest area we have to improve in," Capers said. "You'll hear me say this all year: If you want to keep people out of your end zone, you have to keep them from getting yardage in big chunks. When you look at all their points they got (Sunday), they got three points off of the 28-yard run. Then they had three pass plays that all ended up in scoring drives, touchdowns. That's the way it is. You can trace those big plays and normally they end up with points on the board. We have to do a better job."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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