Coming off its worst performance of the season, where it allowed a rookie quarterback and first-year starting running back to control the game from start to finish, the unit has become the central focus this week of a losing streak which reached three games last Sunday after the Falcons handed the Packers a 27-24 loss at Lambeau Field.
This Sunday, the task is equally challenging. The Packers (2-3) travel to a tough environment at Qwest Field to take on the Seahawks (1-3) and their sixth-ranked rushing attack (averaging 143.3 yards per game).
The Packers are allowing 161.4 yards rushing per game, sixth worst in the league. They are giving up a whopping 5.1 yards per carry in the midst of the worst stretch of the Mike McCarthy era.
"I look at the defense as thermostat in a football game," McCarthy said. "They need to keep the game in order, and it starts with stopping the run, and we're not doing a very good job of it."
Since McCarthy and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders took over in 2006, the run defense has been the sore spot – especially since the second half of last season.
Even through a magical 14-4 year, the Packers started a disturbing trend that eventually caught up with them. They allowed 105 rushing yards or more in five of the last seven regular-season games. When they needed to assert their will the most – in brutal weather conditions at Chicago (Dec. 23) and at home in the NFC championship game against the Giants (Jan. 20) – they were all but steamrolled, allowing their opponents dictate the flow of the game.
This season, that pattern has continued, albeit in better weather conditions. The Cowboys took care of the Packers in Week 3 by pounding Marion Barber, and the Buccaneers and Falcons followed suit with lesser-known running backs.
To be fair, the Packers' offense has not helped much. Short drives for Aaron Rodgers and Co. have been far too frequent. The Packers are the 23rd in the league with 16 three-and-out possessions.
That the Packers have had much of the same defense over the past three seasons, yet have regressed, represents a major red flag. Their coaches can preach all they want about their aggressive play in the secondary, but without an ability to stop the run from the front seven, the unit as a whole looks passive, unable to handle the physical teams that rule the NFL this year.
For as bad as it has been, it might not get much better anytime soon (unless defensive tackle Justin Harrell coming off the PUP list next week counts). Cullen Jenkins, who was playing better all-around than perhaps anyone on the defensive line, is out for the season, and the depth behind him offers little to no help. The second line of defense, the team's linebackers, cannot do it alone.
The Packers' defense really cannot get much worse, but it seems they have at least developed a reputation for not being able to stop the run. That is something their opponents, like the last three, will no doubt look to exploit.
Matt Tevsh is a frequent contributor to Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com