Pass Defense: Big Problem or Just a Bad Day?

Because of injuries to Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee, the Packers are down three of their top five cornerbacks. Will this come back to haunt the Packers later this season or in the playoffs? Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck offers a surprising answer.

Entering Sunday's game at Pittsburgh, the Green Bay Packers' defense had allowed less than 285 yards in six consecutive games and 14 points or less in four of five games.

Led by red-hot Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers piled up 537 yards and 37 points against the NFL's second-ranked defense.

Which begs the question: Was Sunday's game the start of a season-killing trend for a team that has lost three of its top five cornerbacks, or was it just a blip on the radar?

Actually, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took it one step further, attributing it more to Roethlisberger having traded in his cleats for a couple lucky horseshoes.

"Well, we watched that film, obviously, but a lot of that was on scramble drills, just a random big play to start the game or end the game," Hasselbeck said during a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "I don't know, it was almost like watching a team shooting 3-pointers that they banked them in or something and they didn't call glass. It's like, come on, that doesn't count. Does that really count? I felt like Green Bay was in good position on a lot of plays, and Ben did a really nice job of evading a tackle and throwing it up and somebody else catches it."

Sunday's game against Hasselbeck's Seahawks might not provide a whole lot of insight into whether the defense will be up to the task should the Packers reach the playoffs.

Heck, Hasselbeck admitted as much, saying he didn't think the Packers would find it necessary to do "anything special" against a Seattle offene that has faced one challenge after another.

Seattle's nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Walter Jones, was unable to play this season after a knee injury kept him out for the final four games of last season. Left guard Mike Wahle retired after failing his physical before training camp. Hasselbeck missed two games and was at less than full speed for a few others with a broken rib. And the skill players — T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch at receiver, John Carlson at tight end and Julius Jones at running back — are solid but hardly game-breakers.

Add those factors together and Seattle's offense ranks 22nd in scoring, 22nd in total offense, 28th in rushing and 26th in third-down conversions. What matters this week — in light of what happened last week — is Seattle's passing game, which ranks a competent 14th in yards but 23rd in yards per attempt. The Seahawks have topped 20 points just four times this season — including twice against woeful St. Louis and once against punchless Detroit.

So, just like Dallas with Tony Romo, Baltimore with Joe Flacco and Chicago with Jay Cutler in recent weeks, this Seattle offense has the quarterback but probably not the complementary parts to pose a challenge to the Packers' pass defense.

Of course, that won't stop the Seahawks from trying. It doesn't take a professional offensive coordinator to come up with a game plan against a team that ranks second in the NFL in rushing defense but just allowed the 10th 500-yard passing game in the last five decades.

The Packers couldn't handle tight end Heath Miller, either.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
While Roethlisberger's 503 passing yards boggles the mind, the only surprising thing is that the Packers' secondary hadn't been exploited earlier. Pat Lee, a second-round pick in 2008, was put on season-ending injured reserve in training camp. Fourth-year pro Will Blackmon tore an ACL at Minnesota in Week 4. Wise veteran starter Al Harris tore an ACL in Week 10 against San Francisco. That meant Jarrett Bush, who would have been basically a special-teams player, has been thrust into the role of third cornerback, a position that's used on about 65 percent of the defense's snaps. To put that into perspective, Bush has been getting about 20 more snaps per game than starting nose tackle Ryan Pickett (last week, when Pickett played five snaps, excluded).

Bush will remain the third corner this week, coach Mike McCarthy said, with Josh Bell, Trevor Ford and Brandon Underwood battling to be the fourth. However it shakes out, those guys will be wearing a giant target on their backs for the rest of the season.

"Once you put things on film, you just have to count on you're going to see them from other people. Everybody studies the tape," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.

The tape doesn't lie, but that doesn't mean the secondary's confidence has been shaken. Bell, who gave up the winning touchdown pass vs. Pittsburgh, compared a return to practice to the infamous men in black in that "everything just disappears."

"Not at all, man," Bell said when asked if his confidence had been shaken. "I was really excited to get back on the field today for practice. Practice is almost like your sanity. After a play like that, after a loss like that, the next thing to do is to go to work. That's the best way to take your mind off of whatever it is, is to get working on the next thing."

More than likely, the secondary will find solid ground against a Seattle offense that has scored seven points in back-to-back games. But how will that group fare next week — and possibly the week after in the playoffs — at Arizona, which features Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston? Or a playoff game against Philadelphia, with Donovan McNabb throwing to DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant? Or Minnesota or New Orleans should they advance to the divisional round?

"I really have a lot of respect for this Packer defense," Hasselbeck said. "They do a good job, they're getting really good play from their young linebackers, and Charles Woodson has always been and continues to be one of the best corners in the game. So, I don't think (the Pittsburgh game) will be the norm. The Steelers just had one of those games. A lot of scrambles, a lot of broken plays that added up to a lot of yards."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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