Everything was backward in the Green Bay Packers’ 19-7 loss at Detroit. Green Bay’s high-powered offense fired nothing but blanks, and its porous defense was as solid as a rock.
It didn’t take long for Matthews to turn around the sweatshirt and it hasn’t taken the Packers too long to turn around the run defense.
Green Bay yielded 207 yards on 37 rushes at Seattle and 109 yards on 22 rushes in the first half against the Jets. Add it up, and the six-quarter carnage equated to 316 yards on 59 rushes – an unsightly 5.36 yards per carry.
If there’s something the Packers can hang their hat on after a disappointing 1-2 start to the season, perhaps it’s a run defense that has performed much better over the last six quarters.
In the second half against New York, Green Bay yielded 37 yards on 15 attempts. And against Detroit on Sunday, the Packers allowed 115 yards on 38 attempts. Add it up, and the defense has allowed 152 yards on 53 attempts over that span. The per-carry average has been cut almost in half to 2.87.
“I think we did some good things out there,” Matthews said. “The reality is we didn’t come up with the win but, at the same time, when you take a closer look, you look at the good stuff we did and the stuff we need to improve upon. We had three turnovers – the sack-caused fumble, the interception and another turnover. There’s some good things out there but, ultimately at the end of the day, we lost, and that’s how we’re judged.”
Of course, the Packers’ run defense wasn’t perfect. With the Packers trailing 12-7 early in the fourth quarter, Reggie Bush ran around left end on third-and-2 for what turned out to be the clinching 26-yard touchdown. It was a rare play in which the Packers lost their gap integrity. Mike Neal got blocked inside and Micah Hyde failed to keep contain as Bush used his explosive speed to get into the open field. He wasn’t touched until he had a full head of steam inside the 5-yard line.
“He’s a guy that you’ve got to keep constant leverage — outside-in and inside-out,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “That was really the one poor play for us in the run game.”
For the most part, Green Bay’s run defense played just as well as it did during the second half against the Jets’ powerful running game. Eliminating Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford’s three scrambles and three kneeldowns to end the game, the Lions ran the ball 32 times. They were held to 1 yard three times, 0 yards four times and negative yardage three times.
Two of the lost-yardage plays were critical. The first, Matthews’ tackle of Jeremy Ross for a minus-5, turned a second-and-9 into a third-and-14 and set up HaHa Clinton-Dix’s interception. The second was Julius Peppers’ tackle of Bush for minus-4 on first-and-goal from the 6. That helped limit Detroit to a field goal following the safety and free kick.
The defense played well enough to win the game, having yielded only 10 of the 19 points. However, the Lions were able to run out the final 6:54, with Bush converting a third-and-3 with a 4-yard run and Joique Bell converting a third-and-4 with a 4-yard run.
“People know you’re going to be maxing out playing the run up there,” Capers said. “So, I think it becomes a matter of feeling that sense of urgency. You’ve got to find a way to get the ball back. Obviously, the offense at that point of time is geared up because they know they’re in a situation where a first down or two is going to put them in a position to win the game. We had three legitimate shots during that 4-minute drill to get off the field. ... We’ll address that. That’s when you’ve got to be at your best. I’ve seen it before where you get into those situations and a little bit’s a lot when it comes to that run defense and being able to stop them for less than 3 yards every shot in there. We didn’t get that done.”
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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.