Benny Sieu/USA TODAY

Healthy Secondary Has Been Primary Agent of Change for Packers’ Defense

The numbers are startling when you compare the first 10 games to the last three games.

During the Green Bay Packers’ four-game losing streak, the defense was about as bad as it’s been at any point in franchise history.

You had to go back to the pre-Vince Lombardi days to find four consecutive games of 30-plus points allowed. For back-to-back games of 40-plus points allowed. The four-game carnage in the losses to Atlanta, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Washington? A heinous 38.3 points per game.

By that measure, the Packers’ defense has been unrecognizable the past three games. In the victories over Philadelphia, Houston and Seattle, the Packers yielded a total of 36 points. The Packers hadn’t allowed 13 points or less in three consecutive games since smothering the Jets, Cowboys and Vikings to a total of 10 points midway through the 2010 season.

What’s been the difference?

“I think it's obvious,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We're getting some continuity. We've got players coming back.”

While the injury situation remains a real pain at linebacker with the starting quartet of Clay Matthews (24), Nick Perry (inactive), Jake Ryan (eight) and Blake Martinez (inactive) playing a combined 32 snaps vs. Seattle, the Packers have gotten healthy at cornerback. While Sam Shields’ season ended after one game, the Packers have had their new top trio of Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter together for each of the past three games.

“We were challenged in the secondary there for about a month-and-half,” McCarthy said. “We had a position that was pretty much depleted in our corners. We were playing really, really young players. So, (the) younger players are better, we've got guys back. If we can just keep players in the same position, we'll be better as we move forward so. We have more continuity, which obviously has improved our execution and production.”

That’s evident in passer rating. Through the first 10 games, Green Bay ranked 31st with an opponent passer rating allowed of 105.6. Over the last three games, Green Bay’s opponent passer rating ranks fifth at 66.3.

It’s not just the five interceptions against Seattle. Those big plays are huge, obviously. But it’s the lack of big plays against the Packers that have been critical to the resurgence.

Through the first 10 games, the Packers allowed 37 passing plays of 20-plus yards, tied for the fifth-most in the league. Over the last three games, the Packers have allowed seven, which is tied for the eighth-fewest. Seattle, with one of the best big-play passing games in the NFL, had only two passing plays of 20-plus yards on Sunday. 

“The thing we always talk about, and I believe this, if you don’t give up big plays, we’ll be hard to score against,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “If you give up yardage in big chunks, which you go back to the Washington game, we had a lot of big-chunk yardage. I think back to that game, we were sitting there with little over 2 minutes to go in the third quarter and played pretty well. From that point on, they hit  three or four big plays and the game got out of hand. You’ve got to make people work. Look at the game (Sunday). If people have to move the ball down the field, normally something happens. We had a lot of good things happen.”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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