Sanders' defense springs many leaks

The fourth-year coordinator is more worried about his struggling defense than his job security. See what Sanders and coach Mike McCarthy are saying about a defense that has allowed more points this season than all of last season.

Bob Sanders says he's not losing any sleep worrying about his future as the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator.

That's because he's losing sleep trying to plug the many leaks in the Packers' defensive dam that are gushing yards and points.

"Not at all. No. I don't have time," Sanders said when asked if he was worried his job was in jeopardy after the third consecutive horrific performance by his defense. "Our object is to try and win a game and get our guys in the best position that they can be, and certainly that's what we're trying to do."

After the Packers throttled the Chicago Bears 37-3 by allowing merely 234 yards, their defense ranked a season-best 16th. But the Saints gained 416 yards and scored 51 points, the Panthers gained 300 yards (on just 46 plays) and scored 34 points and the Texans gained a whopping 549 yards and scored 21 points.

After the carnage of 421.7 yards and 35.3 points in those three games, the Packers' defense is ranked 23rd. The Packers yielded 25.6 points per game in their first five games but allowed just 16.2 in their next five. That improvement, however, has gone up in smoke. In all, the Packers rank 22nd in points allowed at 24.5 per game.

"I wish I could have an exact answer, because if I knew the exact answer, it would take care of the problem," Sanders said. "We did have a good week of practice last week and our guys are working during the week. We'll continue to evaluate everything we do. It starts with me."

"Well, we had plenty of corrections to go around," coach Mike McCarthy said of his typically bad run defense, nonexistent pass rush and suddenly suspect pass coverage.

Through the first 10 games, the Packers stayed afloat at 5-5 despite a run defense that consistently ranked in the bottom fourth of the league because it was offset by arguably the NFL's best pass defense. The Packers entered their Week 12 game at New Orleans ranked third in the league against the pass but allowing the lowest completion percentage and opposing quarterback rating in the NFL.

But now, even that pass defense is hemorrhaging, regardless of whether Sanders drops extra defenders into coverage or blitzes. The Saints' Drew Brees compiled an almost-perfect 157.5 passer rating, the Panthers' Jake Delhomme sported a 104.3 rating and the Texans' Matt Schaub had a 104.7 rating. The Packers' pass defense has fallen to 13th in the league.

"If I could, if there was one thing, it would be corrected," Sanders said of whether he could pinpoint what ails the pass defense. "A couple of those explosive gains were arrow routes by fullbacks. We have to get on those and make the tackle. We've got to do a good job of taking care of the little things, and it starts with me and making sure we do those things in practice."

Last year, the Packers allowed 291 points, good for sixth in the league. With three games remaining, the Packers have allowed 319 points. It's a striking difference for a team that lost just one noteworthy performer from last year (part-time starting defensive tackle Corey Williams). But, injuries took away two of the Packers' premier defenders — Cullen Jenkins in Week 4 and Nick Barnett in Week 10 — and impact safety Atari Bigby hasn't been healthy since Week 2.

"The frustration is not winning games," Sanders said. "The bottom line is winning games. That's the frustration. If you're top five or top 10 or whatever, the bottom line is to win. That's our goal is to win the world's championship and not have any excuses why we can't do it."

In three weeks, McCarthy will have a difficult decision to make regarding Sanders and several other assistant coaches. McCarthy offered a vote of confidence to Sanders — who was Jim Bates' defensive line coach under Mike Sherman — although it wasn't quite a ringing endorsement.

"I work with Bob every day, so from a personal side of it, he's a tremendous human being," McCarthy said. "It's very important to him. And professionally, he has a system and a scheme, and he's doing the best job that he can to put players in position to be successful. I have confidence in Bob, and will continue to as we move forward."

Meanwhile, Sanders will seek solutions where none seem available over the final three games of the season.

"We're trying to win a game," Sanders said when asked if the defensive performance is eating at him day and night. "It's a job that's very, very near and dear to us. We take great pride in what we try to do. There's a lot of pride in the defensive room, so we're all searching and trying to do things the right way."

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.


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