Packers’ Defense Solving Problem Spots

One week at a time, Green Bay's defense has been turning its weaknesses into strengths. With Week 7 almost in the books, the Packers rank 10th in points and tied for eighth in yards per play, and sore spots like run defense and third-down defense are getting better and better. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY)

In the first six quarters of the season, the Green Bay Packers allowed 57 points. That’s 9.5 points per quarter.

In the last 22 quarters, the Packers have allowed 90 points. That’s 4.1 per quarter – even including the fumble-return touchdown and safety at Detroit.

With Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay will always field an offense that’s going to put a lot of points on the scoreboard and a lot of the wins in the standings. It’s that leaky defense that’s been the problem for most of the past three seasons.

Those problems slowly are being resolved.

“When we came out and we didn’t play like we (wanted), it was like, ‘OK, we’re not there yet. We’re not there yet,’” cornerback Tramon Williams said after the game. “We had some people who were like, ‘OK, these guys made these moves and it’s not showing up right now.’ But it takes a little bit of work. You’ve got other teams who game plan against you and it’s a chess match. You can’t go out there and play checkers against certain teams. It’s a chess match. You come out and have a dominant first half, you don’t think that the next team is going to come out in the second half and make some adjustments and try to make some things happen. You have to make adjustments, too, at the same time. You have to think before they think, or think like they’re going to think. I think that’s what we’ve been doing.”

When the Packers embarked on their four-game winning streak at Chicago, the Bears piled up almost 500 yards — including an appalling 235 on the ground. However, three big plays from the defense — a tackle at the goal line by HaHa Clinton-Dix on the final play of the first half and two interceptions sparked Green Bay to a convincing victory.

When the Packers smashed undermanned Minnesota at Lambeau Field, Green Bay held the run-first Vikings to 111 rushing yards and forced three turnovers. After failing to get a stop on 7-of-11 third-down plays against the Bears, Green Bay held Minnesota to 5-of-15.

When the Packers won at sweltering Miami, Green Bay’s defense dominated the first half with a goal-line stand and forced three three-and-out possessions against an efficient opponent that had just five three-and-outs in the first four games. Miami’s excellent running game was limited to 112 yards, and its running backs managed 63 yards on 20 rushes. And when the defense absolutely needed a stop, it got one to give a final shot to Rodgers.

When the Packers dominated first-place Carolina on Sunday, there were more positive signs. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who is one of the most athletic players at the position in the league, was a nonfactor. A week after he was a one-man gang with 391 total yards against the Bengals’ excellent defense, Green Bay limited Newton to 246 yards. The read-option — which really wasn’t a huge factor against Miami, contrary to popular belief — wasn’t a factor at all. While Carolina rushed for 108 yards, the Packers held the Panthers’ backs to 67 yards on 18 attempts. And maybe the most positive sign of all is this: After surviving on takeaways the past four weeks, Green Bay managed to play winning defense while forcing only one turnover.

“It starts at the line of scrimmage,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “I thought our defense controlled the line of scrimmage the whole game. We penetrated. With these misdirection runs and all the things they do and just with the talent they have at quarterback, I thought the ability to play on their side of the line of scrimmage for the most part was a big advantage for us.”

Whether this is a championship-caliber defense will depend on whether the growth from the past few weeks continues, starting Sunday night at dangerous New Orleans. With only the Monday night game yet to be played, Green Bay’s defensive rankings in key categories aren’t too shappy: tied for 10th in points allowed (21.0), 19th in yards but eighth in yards per play (5.24), 31st in rushing but 19th in yards per rushing play (4.58), sixth in passing and fifth in passing yards per play (6.19) and second in interception percentage (4.12).

Where Green Bay must make big gains (or continue its upward trajectory) are rushing defense and the situational areas of red zone and third down. The Packers rank 23rd on third down, with opponents covering 45.7 percent of the time, and 17th in the red zone, with opponents scoring touchdowns 56.5 percent of the time. While the red zone has been relatively steady, third down has seen major improvement. In the last three games, opponents have converted only 13-of-37 (35.1 percent).

On Monday, Williams said a big key has been ongoing communication between the players and the coaching staff. One area he pointed to was practice. If the players need more looks against a certain scheme, they’ve asked defensive coordinator Dom Capers for added reps on the practice field.

“Everyone’s on the same page -- and that’s really been the case; everyone’s just been on the same page for these past four games,” Williams said after the game. “We’re not making it a secret. A lot of times you get certain teams, certain quarterbacks where you’re like, ‘OK, they may pick up on this and pick up on that,’ and you try to hide certain tendencies. We’re not trying to hide it. We’re just trying to make sure we’re on the same page and communicating vocally or physically that we’re on the same page. And we’ve been doing that. Guys have been where they’re supposed to be. That’s a good feeling.”

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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