Injuries Can't Sugarcoat Flaws

The Packers played without seven starters on defense — including all four linebackers and All-World cornerback Charles Woodson — but that doesn't excuse all of the shortcomings. The Packers' front-line players haven't recorded one quarterback hit.

The Green Bay Packers' No. 1 defense didn't get the job done for the second consecutive week.

Oh, wait, those were a bunch of guys masquarading as the No. 1 defense.

In Green Bay's 27-24 win at Seattle, the Packers were without all four presumptive starting linebackers (Clay Matthews, hamstring; Brad Jones, shoulder; Nick Barnett, knee; A.J. Hawk, ankle), All-World cornerback Charles Woodson (rest) and two of last year's starting defensive backs (Al Harris, knee; Atari Bigby, ankle). The situation was so dire that Robert Francois, who is a long shot to make the team, started at inside linebacker.

"It's hard from a big-picture standpoint," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "These games are so valuable to us in terms of evaluating how our guys are going to do against front-line guys. They kept their ones in there the whole first half, so we're going to get a good look at how our guys did against their ones. I felt good about how we played the run other than the touchdown run."

Playing the entire first half, veteran Matt Hasselbeck completed 11-of-15 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown. Throw in the first-half exploits last week of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, and the Packers' starting defense has allowed 21-of-30 passing for 265 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 130.6.

While last week's performance was troubling — only Matthews, Harris and Bigby sat out that one — it's hard to get too worked up by some of the shortcomings of a defense playing without seven starters.

Then again, cornerback Brandon Underwood, who could open the season as the third corner if Harris isn't ready, was targeted by Hasselbeck repeatedly. Morgan Burnett, who is replacing Bigby, had a second consecutive lackluster game. Offseason questions about the Packers' depth at outside linebacker are being answered, and those answers aren't good.

On the 11-yard touchdown run by Leon Washington that was referenced by Capers, Cullen Jenkins was wiped out by a double team, B.J. Raji was cut to the turf, Francois ran himself out of the play, Bishop was blocked far too easily, Nick Collins whiffed on a tackle and Burnett was far too late. Other than Francois, the others are all vital cogs on the defense and they all had major breakdowns.

The only front-seven defenders who have consistently excelled have been starting ends Jenkins and Pickett. Jenkins looks like he's set for a Pro Bowl-caliber season and the run-stuffing Pickett is a perfect fit at left end because most teams run to the right.

Again, the pass rush was practically nonexistent — especially when Capers played it straight. At some point, the defenders must beat their man and make a play because, as Capers said last week, blitzing can only cover a defense's flaws for so long. In two games, the Packers have just one sack — by undrafted Frank Zombo. The defense has just three quarterback hits in two games — two by Zombo and the other by Anthony Toribio. In other words, not a single hit on the quarterback by a defensive player who is expected to make the team.

To be sure, Woodson and Matthews aren't merely starters. They are superior players who not only do their jobs at an elite level but lift the play of their teammates. Their absence leaves a major void. But offenses can throw away from a cornerback and they can double team an outside linebacker. Are there enough difference-makers on this defense to contend for a championship? Is there enough depth? Nothing during these first two preseason games suggests those questions will be answered in the affirmative.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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