Defense knocked to the mat

Injuries, blown assignments lead to frustrating start for Packers

The Green Bay Packers' defense is hurting in more ways than one. The Packers are missing a starters and giving up way too much yardage to opposing offenses.

As a result the Packers have surrendered an average of 27-plus points per game in the last four games as the team's record has slipped to 2-3.

The absence of Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris (spleen), safety Atari Bigby (hamstring) nd defensive end Cullen Jenkins (ruptured pectoral muscle) hasn't helped. The fact that linebacker A.J. Hawk is playing with a sore groin and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett a sore knee adds to the frustration.

And nobody is picking up the slack. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett has been missing in action. On Sunday, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wasn't sacked and only hit once. His uniform was clean throughout the game.

In short, the Packers' defense is in disarray and opponents are capitalizing on younger backups who are playing more and gaining experience, but not necessarily producing.

"When you look at who's making the mistakes, the experience level of the players," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "I'm talking about we had a number of young players on our defense yesterday who had an opportunity and didn't take advantage of it, and that's the facts. I thought some of our veteran players played solid, and we didn't get production that we needed throughout the whole defense. It was a poor performance from our defense. That was very evident. They know it, and we'll correct it and move on. But we had some young guys with an opportunity yesterday that really didn't take advantage of it."

The Packers' defense began the game flat and gave up three plays of 19 or more yards in the first quarter as Atlanta took a 10-0 lead. Rookie Pat Lee then was flagged for a controversial 20-yard pass interference penalty on third down on Roddy White in the second quarter, which led to a Falcons touchdown.

The Packers clamped down on White in the second half, holding him to no catches, but Green Bay's run defense had trouble stopping Michael Turner, who churned out 121 yards on 26 carries (4.7 avg. per carry) for the game.

"We need to stop the run and we're not doing that," said linebacker Brady Poppinga after the game Sunday. "Teams know that and teams are going to continue to test us there until we can prove that we are more stout against the run game. First and foremost our run defense needs to improve."

The Packers' run defense has given up 100 or more yards to opponents in four of five games this season. McCarthy said he was happy with the defense's effort after breaking down the video of Sunday's 27-24 loss, but not so much some individuals' ability to stick to their assignment.

"It's almost like we took turns doing it ... guys trying to do too much," McCarthy said. "I think that's something you try to guard against, you try to practice against, because that's emphasized. Maybe they read your guys' articles too much. But when you've got a problem, run defense is all about gap control, the proper technique and playing to the guy next to you. And the way we're situated and organized on defense, it's very evident when something goes wrong, someone not being in their gap. We had it a number of times where the defender had his head in the right gap, he has his gap in control, and then he pulls out trying to make the play. We need to get that cleaned up, and that's what we'll do today in our meetings."

The Packers entered this season with high expectations of their defense. The secondary was regarded as one of the best in the league and the veteran line and linebacker corp was supposed to be above average in stopping the run. That hasn't been the case, however, and frustrations are beginning to mount in the Packers' locker room.

"We're concerned because as a team we're not playing the way we're capable of playing," said cornerback Charles Woodson. "That's a bad sign for any team, so we've got to hurry up and try to correct the mistakes that we're making and try to put in a full game. You can't play flat in one half and play good in one half. It's just not going to work in this league."

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