Through five games, the Green Bay Packers hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passing game.
In a perverse way, they still haven’t.
Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers served as a reality check for the Packers’ defense.
In the first five games, opponents averaged 208.4 passing yards per game. On Sunday, Philip Rivers — far and away the best quarterback the Packers have faced this season — threw for 503.
But here’s another reality check: The Packers allowed 20 points in improving to 6-0.
“I don’t like the yardage, obviously, but I liked the way our guys competed because, to me, good football teams find a way to win,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “You do it different ways each and every week. You’ve seen over the last two, three weeks to where we’ve won different ways. I always tells guys, ‘Winners find a way to win.’ You never know what play’s going to make the difference. Yeah, I think that we can take and learn and I think in the long run we’ll take some positives out of this thing yesterday.”
The big positive continues to be Green Bay’s situational defense.
From Week 2 through Week 5, the Packers dominated on third down, holding the Seahawks, Chiefs, 49ers and Rams to a mere 28 percent conversion rate. The Chargers moved the chains on 9-of-18 third-down opportunities, which allowed them to pile up 548 total yards and keep the ball for 38 minutes.
However, many of those yards were the equivalent of empty calories. The Chargers took six of their 10 possessions into the Packers’ red zone. They managed two touchdowns for their efforts.
“They had a whole bunch of yards but we held them to 20 points. If you see the numbers, you’d think they had 50 points,” cornerback Casey Hayward said.
“You want to take some of the yards away but, ultimately, you want to win the game, and we found a way to win. Twenty points, sometimes that can win us the game, and it did tonight. We’re 6-0 going into the bye.”
The big red-zone stop, of course, came on the final series. On first-and-goal at the 3, Clay Matthews dropped running back Danny Woodhead for a gain of 1. On second-and-goal, Rivers threw incomplete in the end zone to Antonio Gates as Damarious Randall came off Woodhead to help Micah Hyde on the All-Pro tight end.
On third-and-goal, Datone Jones blew past right guard D.J. Fluker to level Woodhead for minus-1.
That set up the all-or-nothing fourth-and-goal from the 3. On the second-down play, Randall’s help on Gates might have left Woodhead a bit too open in the flat. The Chargers perhaps had that in mind on fourth down as they essentially ran the same play. This time, with Julius Peppers applying pressure right in Rivers’ face, Randall stayed closer to Woodhead and showed an incredible burst to break up the pass.
“Playing a zone and his assignment in that zone is to put himself in position where he break on either one,” Capers said of defending Woodhead or Gates. “For a young guy, you have to know where you are on the field. If you’re on the 3-yard line, you can’t get too deep because you saw he had to break and the timing of it where he just got there at the right time. But the time before, I thought he did a nice job of falling off to where they couldn’t throw the corner route on the thing. His job is to key the quarterback on that and play in-between. He has to be tight enough to get the play broken up like what happened on the fourth down. He really did a nice job. It was a timing play, a bang-bang play.”
In the last three games, the Packers have allowed three touchdowns in 12 red-zone possessions. That 25.0 percent touchdown rate is tied for the best in the league during that span.
“Obviously, our No. 1 point of emphasis is scoring defense. I just think that that’s where it all starts,” Capers said. “To be a good scoring defensive team, you’ve got to play well in the red zone. People are going to get down in the red zone on you and you’ve got to try to keep them kicking field goals.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.