Magic formula on defense?
The question du jour asked of the defensive players in the locker room on Sunday evening was this: “How did you get it turned around?”
In the first three series, the Jets scored three touchdowns and piled up 180 yards. In the final nine series, the Jets managed one field goal and 132 yards.
There was no secret formula, player after player said. And that’s the best news of all for Dom Capers’ defense. There was no smoke and mirrors. No gimmick defenses. No fluke plays. It was playing better. Nothing more, nothing less.
“I was really proud of the way our guys kept their poise,” Capers said on Monday. “They didn’t panic. They fought through some tough situations early in the game. To come back, after the first three series, I thought it was one of our better defensive games.”
Taking the take-a-knee possession to end the Seattle game out of the equation, the Packers’ defense was on the field for a total of 12 possessions after falling behind 21-3 on Sunday. The results? 57 points — a shocking 4.75 points and 48.4 yards per series. Green Bay’s defense got off the field without yielding a first down just one time.
In the final eight possessions against New York (with the take-a-knee possession at the end of the first half taken out out of the equation), the Packers allowed just 0.38 points and 16.6 yards per series. Green Bay’s defense got off the field without allowing a first down three times.
Green Bay’s run defense was demolished for 207 yards by Seattle. The Jets — who fielded the NFL’s third-best running attack over the past five seasons — piled up 146 yards, but just 37 came after halftime. New York’s dynamic backfield trio of Chris Ivory (13 carries, 43 yards), Chris Johnson (12 carries, 21 yards) and Bilal Powell (four carries, 16 yards) combined for 80 yards on 29 carries — 2.76 yards per attempt.
“Those are the numbers you want against a team that had run the ball for over 200 yards before,” Capers said. “We just have to take and build on that.”
Just like one bad game against Seattle didn’t mean the Packers were destined to field another lousy defense, one great half against New York doesn’t mean the Packers are destined to field a championship-caliber defense for the rest of the season. Still, it was affirmation of the confidence that had been building for months.
“When you see what guys can do, when you know what we’re capable of doing, to come out like we did the first game and two quarters of this game and play like we did, that’s the most frustrating part of it,” cornerback Tramon Williams said after the game. “But you never want to get too down because we know what we’re capable of doing. And we did. We came out in the second half and showed what we can do. That’s what we expect out of our guys.”
One-man wrecking crew
Jordy Nelson’s 18 receptions are tied for tops in the league. His 292 receiving yards lead the league, as do his 30 targets.
Is that lack of balance an issue?
“There’s no issue from our end of it,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “Aaron (Rodgers) did a great job taking advantage of (what the Jets were giving him) and Jordy was very productive so, hey, that’s why you play the game. You can sit in your office all day and scheme and watch film and put in game plans and practice it, but that’s the beauty of the game. Which direction is it going to go and where’s the production going to come from?”
It’s only two games, so the numbers are deceiving. Nonetheless, Nelson has 37.5 percent of the team’s receptions and 54.6 percent of the receiving yards. That’s incredibly lopsided production compared to the usual spread-the-ball-around approach of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Based on team-leading figures since 2008:
— 2013: Nelson, 23.2 percent receptions; Nelson, 29.0 percent yards.
— 2012: Randall Cobb, 21.3 percent receptions; Cobb, 22.0 percent yards.
— 2011: Nelson, 18.1 percent receptions; Nelson, 24.5 percent yards.
— 2010: Greg Jennings, 21.6 percent receptions; Jennings, 29.0 percent yards.
— 2009: Donald Driver, 19.6 percent receptions; Jennings, 24.8 percent receptions.
— 2008: Jennings, 23.3 percent receptions; Jennings, 31.9 percent yards.
Nelson is on pace to be targeted 240 times. The biggest full-season total of the Rodgers era? Jennings, with 140 targets in 2008. Nelson, with 127 targets in 2013, has the second-highest total. Across the league, only Calvin Johnson (204 targets in 2012) has been thrown 200 passes in a season since 2000.
It’s no secret the Packers have a lack of proven depth in the passing game. Cobb is a tremendous second option, but Jarrett Boykin was a decoy against Seattle and wound up on the bench for parts of the New York game and has only one catch. Davante Adams, who had five catches against the Jets, is an unproven rookie. The tight ends have a combined four receptions.
So, the question is, if a team with a top-notch cornerback can at least limit Nelson’s production, do the Packers have enough firepower elsewhere?
“I don’t think we’re relying too much on him,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “We still try to move the ball around but Jordy is a top-notch receiver and we’re going to try to get him the ball. If teams want to try to take him away, we’ll go to our other weapons, we’ll try to mix it around, spread the wealth around. But Jordy’s a great player.”
Tackling dummies, revisited
Going back to the defense, plenty was written and said about the Packers missing 17 tackles against Seattle. That was the worst figure in the league, according to ProFootballFocus.com (which revised New Orleans’ total from 23 to 16 at some point last week).
Green Bay responded by missing only three against the Jets, according to PFF. (Packer Report had the Packers missing 18 tackles against Seattle and six against New York.) New York running back Chris Ivory, who was second in the league after forcing eight missed tackles against Oakland in Week 1, forced only one against Green Bay.
Tackling will be at a premium on the fast track of Detroit’s Ford Field on Sunday. In last year’s 40-10 Lions romp, Reggie Bush forced five missed tackles, Joique Bell forced two and Jeremy Ross added one as the Lions rushed for a stunning 241 yards, including 110 after contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com. In all, the defense missed 10 tackles in that game.
“We made a tremendous improvement,” Capers said. “We cut it by more than 50 percent. I think we’re heading in the right direction there. I thought the mental aspect of the game in terms of mental errors and missed tackles, we were improved.”
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.