Packers vs. Chargers: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 45-38 Win over San Diego

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Aaron Rodgers threw for four scores, Tramon Williams and Charlie Peprah each had interception returns for touchdowns, and the defense held off a frenzied fourth quarter rally as the Green Bay Packers beat the San Diego Chargers, 45-38, on Sunday to remain the NFL’s lone undefeated team at 8-0.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Defensive issues

There was optimism that the Packers defense might rebound after a bye week in which some key players were getting healthy and an adjustment or two could be made. That wishful thinking was dashed in San Diego with another disappointing performance. Philip Rivers threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns, and there were times in which the Chargers marched up and down the field seemingly at will. San Diego finished with 460 total yards on offense. So what are the issues? Or maybe the better question, what isn’t an issue? The Packers had breakdowns in both man and zone coverages on Sunday. Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Sam Shields were beaten several times, and each is having a considerably worse season than they did a year ago. No one in the front seven can consistently pressure the quarterback either. That’s a frightening combination for any pass defense. And don’t forget, the tackling has been atrocious through eight games. Mike Tolbert ran through several more arm tackles on Sunday.

At this point, it might be time to start considering that the Packers 2011 defense might be more like their ’09 version than ’10—at least in terms of yards and points. Even slightly above average offenses are going to move the football against the Packers. But you can’t overlook the fact that the defense got two stops—a punt and a pick—once the Chargers pulled with seven late in the fourth quarter. They have pushed “bend but don’t break” to its very limits, and to this point, the Packers defense hasn’t completely broken down. Turnovers have held this group’s head above water, as the Packers extended their NFL lead in interceptions with three more on Sunday. The defense gives plenty but they also take it away. That’s likely how the rest of the 2011 will go for the Packers on that side of the ball.

2. The Packers’ great equalizer

It’s been the same script all season long. As poorly as the defense has played at times in 2011, Aaron Rodgers and his mastery of the quarterback position continues to cure the Packers of many of their ills. “Mastery” isn’t an exaggeration either. With four more touchdown passes and 247 yards on Sunday, Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 24 scores and 2,600 yards in his team’s first eight games. His 145.8 passer rating extended his own NFL record of starting a season with eight games above a 110-mark. Over his last two games, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdowns and just nine incompletions. There are so many other statistical amazements that I could throw at you, but the main point here is that Rodgers’ start to the 2011 season has made the Packers defensive difficulties a moot point. As long as Rodgers and the Packers offense remains this hot, the defense can take its time figuring out many of their problems over the second half of the season.

3. Two stretches seal the deal

How many times this season have the Packers put their foot on the gas and completely turn the tide of a given game? It happened twice on Sunday. The first came in the opening quarter after the Chargers had taken a 7-0 lead. Rodgers hit Jermichael Finley for a 5-yard touchdown to tie the game with 5:14 left in the first, then the Packers defense found the end zone on back-to-back interceptions that ended consecutive drives for the Chargers. Packers safety Charlie Peprah put the Packers up seven when he caught a deflected pass by Desmond Bishop and weaved his way 40 yards for a score, and just three minutes later Tramon Williams flashed in front of Rivers throw to the flats and jogged into the end zone without being touched to finish the 21-point swing. For a moment, the Packers had sucked the life out of the Chargers early momentum by scoring three times in the span of four minutes.

The second stretch came after the Chargers had clawed with four at 21-17. Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for a 16-yard touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first half, then drove the Packers for a field goal after receiving the ball to start the third quarter. Rivers responded with a touchdown drive of his own, but the Packers immediately went back to work up 31-24. Touchdown strikes to James Jones (21 yards) and Greg Jennings (4) gave the Packers such a cushion at 45-24 that Wayne Larrivee felt comfortable enough to proclaim the “dagger” had been thrown. That wasn’t necessarily the case, but the those two stretches—a 21 point swing in the first quarter and 24-7 run in the middle portions of the contest—were enough for the Packers to claim the win in the end.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Packers pull off stretches like this in 2011. In fact, it’s almost a weekly occurrence. Think back to New Orleans (21-7 start), Carolina (23 straight after falling down 13), Denver (stretches of 21 and 28 straight), Atlanta (19 in the second half and 25 straight overall) and Minnesota (23 straight from end of second to third quarters). When the Packers turn it on, they have the ability to leave teams in holes that are too much to dig out from.

4. Two schools of thought

I want to use this space to talk about two defensive players—Desmond Bishop and Charles Woodson—and how Sunday’s game demonstrates how each is trending in 2011. People are going to get on Bishop for a couple of failed attempts to cover Antonio Gates, but he again played well on Sunday in all other facets. Overall, I’m not sure there is a more overlooked inside linebacker in the game right now than Bishop. He’s having a terrific 2011 season and he should be under serious consideration for a Pro Bowl spot at inside linebacker. 11 tackles and a sack on Sunday only adds to his leads in both statistical categories for the Packers this season. His coverage of Gates was also the major factor in Peprah’s pick-six in the first quarter.

Woodson is a different story. Despite his five interceptions, Woodson has been a liability at times in 2011. According to Pro Football Focus, Woodson ranks in the bottom 20 of NFL cornerbacks in yards, yards after the catch, touchdowns, penalties and missed tackles. His blitzes that were so effective over the past several seasons have hardly made an impact in 2011. Coming into Sunday’s game, Woodson was PFF’s No. 94 ranked cornerback in the entire league, and his play against the Chargers certainly won’t help that ranking, as Woodson missed several tackles and had two big penalties in the fourth quarter. I think people want to give Woodson a pass because of the picks and his track record. But he’s a guy that is regressing at a much faster rate than most want to realize.

5. Underestimating the win?

Through eight games, there should be a level of concern about the way the defense is playing. I’m not sold on the fact that the Packers can repeat this season with that unit playing like it has through the first half of 2011. But let’s not overlook what the Packers did on Sunday. Despite traveling four hours and playing a desperate but inspired football team, the Packers left San Diego 5-0 on the road this season. You could make a pretty convincing argument that the Chargers are the most talented team the Packers have faced since hosting the Saints in Week 1, and despite playing the best offensive game of their season, it still wasn’t enough for the Chargers to win at  home. The Packers made plenty of mistakes in their own right, but still held a 21-point lead on the road in the fourth quarter. Everyone deserves the right to pyschoanalyze the defense, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the Packers can now cross off one of the most daunting road trips they had on their 2011 schedule. There were plenty of NFL experts who thought the Packers would drop this game, too. The undefeated season marches on for the Packers in 2011 with arguably their best road win of 2011.


Other observations:
Jordy Nelson continued his career year with five catches for 105 yards and a score on Sunday. He’s had a catch for over 50 yards in four games already this season, including a 60-yarder against the Chargers…Thanks to Rodgers’ 52 yards on the ground, the Packers rushed for a season-high 136 yards. James Starks averaged 5.1 yards on his 13 carries and finished with 66 yards…Some questioned bringing back James Jones this offseason, but he is going a long ways to earning that paycheck. He caught a 21-yard score, his fourth of the season, on Sunday…Most reporters at the game said that Qualcomm Stadium was anywhere from a third to half full of Packers fans. Those claims were verified on the Packers first series when John Kuhn converted a third down and the crowd let out a “KUHNNNN” chant that was as audible on the broadcast as it is when the Packers are playing at Lambeau Field…OLB Frank Zombo left with a hamstring injury.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • BTF

    I think you are bang on about Woodson Zach. In coverage he struggles now pure and simple but because of the picks and his reputation he gets a pass.

    Thing is his gambling can still be a strength for us but we need the rest of the secondary playing at a high level to cover it. That or a pass rush that’s really threatening the QB. At the moment we haven’t really got either. I think it can be fixed , and even if it isn’t it’s not necessarily fatal but personally I don’t think our D will play up to last years standards.

    • Zach Kruse

      There’s a lot of little problems—including Woodson—that are adding up to a big issue for the defense. Doesn’t seem like an easy fix right now

  • Dan

    Good job Zach, your right on regarding Woodson and the D. My hopes of a tighter unit after the bye have vanished. TT is a great GM but he missed on projecting his 2011 D. I know that’s easier said then done but TT is the bottom line.

    • Zach Kruse

      Letting Jenkins walk was his biggest mistake. They miss him and there’s no questioning that. I’d say they need another impact OLB, too. Have to improve the pressure on the quarterback to get better.

  • Bubbaloo

    Good morning from CA Zach, I will agree with you on Woodson, but I still believe at least the secondary can be fixed. The pass rush is another story. The loss of Collins as the defensive signal caller hurt badly considering they weren’t playing well at that time. Yesterday’s miscommunications were evident to anyone watching the game, Williams and Peprah jawing at each other and NOT on the same page. If that can be fixed, and they can just get to a respectable level, the Packers would have a good chance and Woodson can then play his game. But, to think they can repeat playing as they did yesterday would be a huge stretch. Good article.

    • Zach Kruse

      I think the secondary can get fixed, too. There’s too many talented guys there not to be better.

  • Ron LC

    They have played 8 games and NO improvement in the Defense. There are some tough games ahead and unless the Defense starts carrying their share of the load, the season could reverse on a dime. In the near future there will be games where the enemy D will be trying to hurt AR. I mean Minn, Detroit, Tampa and the Giants, all well known head hunters. They will be throwing everything they have at him. SD had 4 sacks and many forced runs and passes. Only AR could have made a silk purse out of that sow’s ear.

    It is time for Capers and his D to start contributing. I’m not askig for a complete turn around just hold the opponents to around 300 yards and make them work for their scores.

    • BTF

      I understand where you are coming from Ron but the D had 2 pick 6′s yesterday and stopped the Chargers with the game on the line (ok so blown coverages were the reason the game was on the line in the first place !).

      Is the D carrying a 50/50 share ? No of course not. Is it doing enough to win yes it is. Sometimes just enough but enough…

    • Zach Kruse

      The defense does need to start carrying a bigger portion of the load, but they did score 14 points and made the stops when they absolutely had to. That counts for something…

    • RacerX

      Completely agree!
      - Defense must step it up.
      - AR is taking too many hits. (won’t be pretty in Detroit if the O-line plays like that)
      - “Silk purse out of that sow’s ear”…absolutely classic!

  • wim

    true about woodson, but who do you propose they put in for him? Lee? Bush (even though much improved)? Other things to consider: Williams is not playing as he did last year either, but then how could he? He is simply regressing to the mean, though his mean is still pretty high. Raji is tired, and Picket and Green, have another year on their bodies. Hawk? i do not understand his contract. But no way they repeat, even with Rodgers weekly jaw dropping performance; i feel about him the way i used to feel watching Johnny U when i was a kid. Simply unbelievable.

    • Zach Kruse

      I’m not suggesting they pull him by any means. Still their best option, hands down. I agree about “regressing to the mean” for Woodson. Good comment. Raji being tired and Hawk’s poor play are definitely contributing factors to the decline.

  • http://ps wim

    i meant no way they repeat with the D playing the way it is now.

  • Mr. Bacon

    I have a strong feeling that Green Bay will improve the defense, and this entire debate about the defense will become mute as the season continues on.

    Be patient, it will happen.

    When they get back together, Woodson will use his leadership and tell his teammates that they need to step up their game for Rodgers.

    • Zach Kruse

      Patience is a good thing, but after 9 weeks and 8 games, when does patience become ignorance of the problems?

      • Mr. Bacon

        Ignorance is hard to point out, because of Capers. Its not like the schemes that Caper is having no effect but the execution of those schemes.

        The defensive line is failing to properly get a jump on the ball when its snapped on most of the plays.

        Linebackers are not taking the proper reads or at least containing the RB by forcing him to the side.

        Secondary is having issues with the combination of Peprah at FS and Burnett at SS. Because remember the group last seen was Peprah at SS and Collins at FS.

        Its an eyesore right now for watching are defense seem confused Zach, but I promise it will get better.

  • ELo

    Getting pressure on the QB seems to be the key. Seems the Chargers did a great job picking up the blitz most of the time and Rivers had too much time. I know the coverages were blown on some deep routes, but what can Capers do to get more pressure? Are blitzes not disguised enough? Agree with previous comment that BJ seems tired. Not much push out of Picket either. How can we better attack up front and get to the QB?

    • Zach Kruse

      Agree 100%. There’s no quick fix, but getting more pressure helps the entire defense. Hopefully Neal can add something on his return, which would help B.J., too.

  • iccyfan

    Good article Zach! ELo – I had similar thoughts about disguising the blitzes; Chargers weren’t having much trouble picking them up. We can’t expect much pass rush from our trio 330 pound D-Linemen; it needs to come from the LB corps or edges. What can Capers and Greene dream up to get more pressure on the QB? Are they really holding things back for the end-season push?

    • Zach Kruse

      Thanks! Call me crazy, but they need to bring Hawk and Bishop on blitzes more often. The two have been as effective as anyone in the front seven at getting to the quarterback.

  • Tarynfor 12

    Woodson is as close to a 50-50 player as one can get.He will help and hurt equally however there is really nothing that can be done this season and moving him to safety now is…
    We all knew Raji was in on waaayyyy too many snaps last year and most certainly this year and Neal would have changed that total but altering the outcomes is only conjecture.
    CM3 is taking a beating on the field by having to play a scheme that isn’t accomodating to his worth and yet gets enough in it…to not panic Capers for change.Woodson has just said as much after the game.
    This defense is a canoe with one paddle and a leak.
    I wrote in another post that the Detroit game is the one I fear most and losing the game is moot in comparison to level of risk some of our key players,CM3,Raji due to fatigue and they are tired.

    • Zach Kruse

      It might be crazy to think that both Raji and Matthews could be fatigued, but I think you’re right. Neither won their one-on-one matchups on Sunday, which isn’t typical of two “elite” level players.

  • http://none GalaxyM81

    It appears to me the D is playing worse now than at the beginning of the season. I guess the D is the one with the SB hang-over. A win is still a win, but man this one was as butt ugly!!!

    • Zach Kruse

      Ugly wins are going to happen, especially on the road against a team with a hint of desperation about them. But I get what you’re talking about. Ugly performance from the defense.

  • Mojo

    Zach, glad to hear someone recognize not resigning Jenkins was a mistake. When you’re an obvious SB contender signing a player such as Jenkins is what you should be doing, not letting him leave. He was generally considered one of the best interior-rushing D-lineman in the league. He wanted to stay. And for those who say he was injury prone – bah! He’s had no more or less injuries than any other lineman who plays multiple years (Cullen averaged over 13 regular season games per year for the 7 years he played for GB). At 30 he still has at least two or three good years left. The contract he signed with Philly wasn’t that extravagant. With the salary cap going up next year the Pack could have still resigned there core players. Imagine how good the D-line could have been with both Jenkins and Neal. Now it’s one injury away from being a disaster. I’m a huge TT supporter and believer in the draft and develop philosophy, but there are times when you have to compromise a little, especially when your team is one of a handful of true contenders.

    I think CWood would cover better if he stopped peaking in the backfield and played a more traditional man coverage. He has, for two years now, been trying for the big play at the expense of tight coverage. Then when he gets beat he hopes for the best by grabbing. He may have lost a little, but he still has enough physical talent to be a good cover corner.

    Yeah, they’re 8&0, but I guarantee you they will not repeat unless the D gets it’s act together. And I want them to repeat.

    • Zach Kruse

      In a post that should be up this week, I’m going to talk about missing Jenkins and the rest of the woes.

      • BTF

        The contract Jenkins signed in Philly wasn’t extravagant or long term. I don’t think anyone believed he would come that cheap though and by the time it was apparent he would I’m not sure he had any interest in coming back. Even if not re signing Jenkins proves a mistake and you cant say it is yet there was logic behind the decision. Expecting 100% hits from any organisation is unrealistic IMO.

        • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

          Packers felt strongly that Neal would fill his role and more. You can’t predict injuries.

  • Dan

    It’s a shame that this defence might blow a chance at another ring. You only get so many opportunities. A-rod and the O are beyond Superbowl caliber. If TT would have just offered a reasonable offer @ C Jenkins or pulled in a half way decent FA we would have great chance at a repeat. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a chance with the greatest QB, but a little more D rush would help.

    • Zach Kruse

      Not re-signing Jenkins was fine when the presumed price tag was going to be big. But it was certainly within the Packers budget to bring him back. I agree it’s hurting them now.

      • BTF

        Were there any decent free agents offering value with the ability to rush the passer and play the run in a 3-4 out there ? Would the Packers have been able to afford them given that Finley Wells Matthews Raji and Rodgers will be needing extensions soon ? Not being funny if there was then fine you have a case that we made a poor decision but just saying “we should have got a FA” is not a great argument IMO. The Jenkins case is different of course but as I said I’m not sure he had any interest in resigning once we didn’t give him an offer. I could be wrong.

        • Mojo

          I believe he would have resigned with GB given the chance at or below what Philly signed him for. I never heard before he signed with Philly that GB was out of the picture from his standpoint. And I questioned around a year ago why the Pack didn’t seem to show any interest in resigning one of their more impact players. I guess if the ‘logic’ in not resigning Jenkins is because he’s an old injury prone overpaid on the downside of his career player, then what is the justification for resigning CWood and Clifton who are both older than Jenkins, injury prone and more expensive? Something odd was going on from the front office in how the viewed Jenkins. Maybe Zach will offer some insight on that aspect of this.

  • Savage57

    From now on, before each game, I want CM3 to go to the Packers equipment manager and get one of his spare facemasks and go over and give it to the opponents RT so he can get used to what it feels like since he’ll be grabbing it on every play during the game.

    • Zach Kruse

      I can’t remember seeing too many on Matthews yesterday, but I’m watching the game again tonight so I can let you know what my count is. I’m sure he gets mugged every now and then

  • http://none GalaxyM81

    One more comment: The Packers were on the front cover of Sports illustrated this past week. Normally, that is the kiss of death, but the Packers won Sunday.

    Hey Al: Does this break the SI curse???

    • Zach Kruse

      Al can have his own crack at answering your question Galaxy, but I’ll just say that the Packers won the Super Bowl after being on the cover for the NFC Championship win.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I really pay no attention to curses, unless there’s a humorous reason to do so…

  • ELo

    Great quote by McCarthy on defensive communication breakdowns. – “We’ve been talking about communication too much.”

    • Mojo

      Hilarious. Did MM get the irony of his statement?

      • Ron LC

        2011′s pad levels

  • aaronqb

    I agree on Woodson. His INT stats look good, but he has been very mediocre as a cover guy and opponents know it. They are picking on him now.

    I think we are overstating Jenkins. He was a force in 2009; not so much last year and sure hasn’t done much with the 3-5 Eagles. I agree with TT’s decision to let him walk. The team could really use Neal down the stretch.

    I think the biggest factor is the regression of Woodson, Raji, Williams, and Shields. A lot of the 2010 playmakers are not playing to nearly the same level this year.

  • T.C.

    the next draft the pack top 3 picks will be defense

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