Secondary woes continue

Change, at least temporary, needed at the safety position

It was clear early on Sunday at Lambeau Field that the Packers were not going to beat the Patriots. A quick touchdown drive by the Patriots and the ineptitude of the Packers offense made a 21-0 halftime deficit look close.

More disappointing than the 35-0 final tally on the scoreboard, though, was the play of the Packers' deep secondary. Repeated problems with pass defense down the field have been killing the Packers for much of the season and again on Sunday, the play of the safeties bit the team venomously. Poor coverage basically killed any chances the Packers had at getting back in the game.

Marquand Manuel was not in the mood after the game to talk about getting turned around on a 54-yard touchdown to Reche Caldwell, and his position mate, Nick Collins, was nowhere to be found. Both have had up-and-down seasons at positions where the Packers figured to be much better than last year, but instead have been much worse.

The explosive plays that head coach Mike McCarthy talks about almost every week turned what was otherwise a decent defensive effort by the Packers into a nightmarish performance. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady makes most defenses he faces look bad, but looking at the big picture, the Packers surrendered a not-so-horrible 357 total yards and forced four fumbles. Normally, that is good enough to win most games. The four touchdowns that Brady threw and only being able to recover one fumble? Now that is a different story.

Caldwell's second quarter touchdown catch was a post down the middle of the field. When Caldwell cut in, Manuel turned his back and anticipated a cut in the opposite direction making for an easy touchdown. Collins came in late and was unable to catch Caldwell.

"I'm not exactly sure without seeing it on film," said McCarthy of the play, "but I'm sure it had to do with safety play. The leverage of the safety would be my initial reaction."

Manuel said he did not want to address the play directly, but to his credit, he faced the questioning of reporters on an otherwise dismal day. He, Collins, and the rest of the secondary have endured consistent questioning regarding communication breakdowns throughout the year, but Sunday's game was a little different.

"We had no communication problems," said McCarthy. "Our pass coverage was not very good on particular plays."

Both Collins and Manuel have shown some aggression playing their position this year, but their coverage has left something to be desired. Against a good passing team like the Patriots, safety coverage was exploited for at least two touchdowns.

To be fair, linebacker Brady Poppinga was also beat for a 36-yard pass to tight end Ben Watson on a play he said he incorrectly played outside coverage on instead of inside. The big play led to the Patriots' second touchdown of the game.

So with continued problems in deep pass coverage, where do the Packers go? Having McCarthy more involved with the defense and giving someone else a temporary shot at safety would not hurt.

On Caldwell's 54-yard touchdown, McCarthy said he was not sure what coverage the Packers were in, deferring his concerns to problems on offense where the Packers were shut out and gained just 120 total yards. McCarthy was right in addressing his offensive issues, but over remainder of the season, it would not hurt him to become more involved with the defense. Up until now, he has left defensive coordinator Bob Sanders call the shots, but recurring problems are turning a promising season into a sour one.

Giving a player like rookie Tyrone Culver or Atari Bigby a shot at safety should be considered as well. It is not time to give up on Manuel quite yet, but as one of the team's top free agents this off-season, he is not playing up to expectations. The Packers have nothing to lose by temporarily benching him to see what they have behind him.

Not many gave the Packers a chance to beat the Patriots on Sunday and the Patriots showed why. As bad as the final score was, it was even more frustrating to see a Packers safety struggling, a problem that seemingly creeps up every week. At this point, making temporary changes may be the only way to get better.


Matt Tevsh

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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