Packers defense: Where will it go from here?

CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints
CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints
CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints

Through three games, the Packers defense looked good. Not great, but good.

This past Sunday, however, was a different story. Saints quarterback Drew Brees carved up the Green Bay defense for 446 yards and three touchdowns. For Brees, it was like stealing candy from a sleeping baby.

Just six days earlier, the Packers gave up only 130 passing yards–106, if not for a certain 24-yard play to end the game. But Sunday’s soft defense brought back some painful memories from last season, when the Packers’ leaky pass defense was continually bailed out by its unstoppable offense.

So, why did the defense look so much worse this week?

Well, for one, Brees is really, really good.

But also, Capers tends to err on the side of caution in regards to his play-calling, rushing only three and dropping eight into coverage, especially against top-tier quarterbacks like Brees. And again on Sunday, his “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy hurt the team.

In a matter of four plays on Sunday, the Packers pushed the Saints backwards on 1st and 2nd down, but then allowed New Orleans to convert a 3rd-and-17, and a 3rd-and-14. The Packers failed to put any pressure on Brees, allowing him to sit back in the pocket and step up to make timely throws to his receivers.

The extra men in coverage were no problem for Brees, given the fact that he is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the game. As long as he has time, he can put the ball wherever he wants.

Let’s take a look at the 3rd-and-17 conversion to Marques Colston.

Now, let’s examine the Saints’ 3rd-and-14 conversion on the same drive.

New Orleans was only able to muster up a 27-yard field goal on the drive, giving the Saints a 27-21 lead over the Packers. But for the defense, getting off the field on 3rd down is the name of the game.

And clearly, Sunday’s strategy of rushing three and dropping eight wasn’t working.

Sure, the Saints have a lot of weapons on offense, so it’s understandable that Capers would try not to get burned by the blitz. But will this “soft defense” continue to plague the Packers throughout 2012? It very well could.

Some of the miscommunications on Sunday could be attributed to safety Morgan Burnett wearing the headset instead of linebacker D.J. Smith. But through four games this season, this team has some similarities to the 2009 Packers.

Three years ago, the Packers defense was dominant against inferior quarterbacks such as Kyle Boller, Drew Stanton, Daunte Culpepper, Derek Anderson and a young Joe Flacco. But against Brett Favre and Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps the top two quarterbacks Green Bay faced that season, the Packers defense was shredded for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns in just three combined games.

Oh yeah, and the defense allowed Kurt Warner to throw for 379 and five touchdowns, compared to just four incompletions in a 51-45 loss in the playoffs.

This season, the Packers “kept the lid” on Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and added yet another chapter to the “Book of Bad Jay Cutler.” But this past Sunday provided the biggest test of the season for the Packers’ pass defense, and Brees was able to do whatever he wanted.

It’s too early to tell if the Packers’ defensive woes will continue against top-tier quarterbacks as they did in 2009, but it’s certainly something the Packers will have to figure out if they’re going to contend for another Super Bowl.

In all likelihood, fans will be feeling optimistic after this weekend’s game at Indianapolis because Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will be making just his fifth career start, meaning the defense will probably confuse the young quarterback.

But the next “big test” for the Packers will be next week against the Houston Texans and their complete offense. Matt Schaub is by no means one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL, but with a dominant running game, the Texans are able to use play-action as well as any team in the league.

Then again in late November, the Packers will be tested against Matt Stafford and the Lions, as well as Eli Manning and the Giants.

Playing against elite quarterbacks will show whether or not the Packers are ready to get back to the “big dance.” Because as we all know, there won’t be any “gimmes” come playoff time.


Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


22 thoughts on “Packers defense: Where will it go from here?

  1. One thing will solve this, that I didn’t see.

    Pass Rush.

    Russell was never in any danger from the Pass Rush with his elusiveness, and the Saints line never let Brees get touched almost.

    Pass Rush is the cure for all ills. Everything else is primed and ready for the Pass Rush. Until we get it back, the Defense won’t function as a whole.

    1. Well, when the ball is being release on an AVERAGE of 2.2 seconds there’s little the pass rush can do, save for a complete domination of the interior line, which the Packers aren’t capable of doing.

      When the defense can play press man, they excell, and will so even against elite QBs. But there are certain situations that don’t allow the use of press man.

      Then, either the players evolve on their zone game, which is possible given the ammount of rookies playing, and/or Capers starts to recognize which types of zone coverage his players can execute without grievous mistakes and focuses on those.

      Capers’ answer when forced to play zone has always been unpredictability, but it’s just too complex of a defense for the players to execute right now.

      I’m very quick to call for Capers’ head but truth of the matter is he’s a very good DC, but he’s no genius (he is when he has the talent, but then it’s easey), and maybe the expectations are unfairly high.

      Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to find a solution. He’s paid handsomely to do so. Nor that playing so much 3 man rush was the right call. I still contend that a bolder approach would’ve generated better results, even at the expense of big plays, which still happened regardless.

      1. Thanks for the info PackersRS, however I really don’t get into time being clocked and stuff. I honestly don’t like applying a stat about time from point a to point b in a release. Stats only belong in one sport, Baseball.

        What you have said does have merit though, and I thank you for your post.

        What my eyes see is that once the ball is snapped is that the pressure gets stopped immediately at the wall. That initial surge is like .25 to .5 of a second, so it should nullify the 2.2 seconds in theory no?

        If Brees never feels heat in the first quarter, then the following quarters will allow him to go into a rhythm. In which he did so, and getting a interception becomes harder.

        Watch the Bears game, and immediately the Packers got a opening surge for the first drives of the Bears. Cutler was afraid of the pressure, the same pressure we tried to do on Brees.

        What people get to worked up on Capers is that his aggressive style works when the Packers can surge off the line. Which is how Woodson became DPOY and not to mention the Packers were able to win the Superbowl the following year.

        I think the main concept with the three man rush is that Brees isn’t mobile, so a three man pressure is decent.

        I have a theory about the three man rush, but I could be wrong. I think you only use the three man rush if you CAN get pressure on the line. Because it makes sense, if we can easily get pressure with 4-5 man, then why not sacrifice a lineman for a cornerback…

        Note I don’t like the 3 Man line IF… IF we cannot get pressure with additional lineman.

        Anyways, cheers, +1 for you.

        1. Fantastic stuff RS. You should be a blogger here – you’d fit right in!

          Anyway, IMO the D will be the best all around D we’ve had here since mid 2010. And that’s plenty good with our O.

          1. Thanks for the compliment, Bearmeat. But a good thought once in a while without any format doesn’t make for blogger material. I just love this game, every aspect of it, and want to get to know as much as possible about it, that’s why I visit sites like this one and CHTV and comment on posts. The internet can be a trully amazing tool if used properly, not only the articles but the comments, excluding trolls, even the rants, can be very enlightening.

            As for the issue, Mr. Bacon, comparing the Bears’ and the Saints’ OL isn’t fair. The Saints’ OL, particularly the interior, is very good, they’re going to win their share. Their tackles are suspect, but, as I said, 2.2 seconds is too little for the outside rush to get to the QB. Really, Chad’s article stabilishing average time of release is just magnificent ( You can see in there every passing play and the time it took for Brees (and Rodgers) to release the ball.

            Only 8 times (of 59 dropbacks) it took Brees more than 2.9 seconds to release the ball (we’re talking about time of snap till time of release), and the longer it took in a play was 3.9, and it was in a playaction boot. That’s just too quick, there’s no way the rush can get there.

            Plus, the way the Packers played the Bears was very different. They didn’t pressure at the LOS, but they played with trail technique, which took away the quick passes.

            There’s also Brees. He’s so quick at going through his progression, and incredibly accurate. Some throws he made in the game, it looked like Aaron during SB XLV.

            So, to sum, and I’ve made a comment about it in here or at CHTV, the circumstances of this game were abnormal. We’re not going to face offenses like the Saints again, that go against what the Packers do best.

            We’ll see when we play the Texans. I think the D will perform really well.

            I’m also very optimistic about this season. Early struggles, lots of room to grow, and, like in 10′, they can win every tipe of game, there’s not a major weakness on this team. There is one right now, which is the explosive passing game, but with the talent they have I don’t think it’ll sustain.

            1. And the Packer soft zone had ALL the DB’s scurrying away from the Line of Scrimage. All the Saints had to do was cut their routes short and they were ready to catch an uncontested pass. The Packers had to stop their deep drops and try to stop the receiver before they get the 1st down and more.

              This is not the RUSH and this is not the DB’s. This is the system being coached. This happened in almost every game last year. I was hopeful when the 1st 3 games were different. I was so happy. Then came NO. Capers just can’t help himself. He’s too damn risk averse.

      2. Good insight RS. I do understand Capers’ liking to have as many defenders in coverage, which especially makes sense when he knows Brees can throw hot on every play.
        Another note as to why Capers doesn’t have the corners play press all the time has to do with the opposing offense’s formation. Capers has worked in certain visual cues that instruct corners to play off or allow them to press. For example, when the opposing team lines up in a stack or bunch formation (receivers line up next to or even behind one another), Capers wants the corners to back off so that they don’t get picked off by the receivers if they run routes which cross over one another. This leads to the need to play either off man or zone, which, for young players, can take time to master.
        All things considered, the defense is pretty solid. Fans are upset with the yards given up, and those long 3rd down conversions are NOT excusable. However, remember that the defense got stops when it needed to. They held NO’s offense to a field goal on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter – a drive that should’ve ended on Jimmy Grahams un-overturned drop – and on the eventual missed field goal. Half the main contributors on D are rookies, which means they will continue to improve as the year goes. Also, the return of Neal will help as he is the healthiest he’s been since his rookie year, when we all saw how disruptive he can be.
        Go Pack Go!

  2. The big difference between last year and this year is the experience level of the players getting the most plays. Last year, we had an overused BJ Raji, a old and slow Charlie Peprah, an ill-prepared Sam Shields, and no one to bookend Clay Matthews.

    This year, we have 6 rookies that are earning significant minutes – Worthy, Daniels, Perry, Moses, McMillian, and Hayward. These guy are nowhere near where they will be at the end of the season. They are making mistakes and learning their crafts right now. It’s a process they must go through.

    Shields is tackling much better and until last week was rock-solid at corner. The 80-yard TD had nothing to do with Brees being a great QB. It was a bad decision in a formation that was new.

    We also have Mike Neal coming back. I hear the snickers, but I think he is going to be productive.

    I’m not the at all concerned about the defense. In fact, I’m surprised it has played so well so early in the season.

    Watch out in December and January.

    1. All the rookies playing give me at least some hope that they will continue to improve as the year goes on. That’s no guarantee, but it’s better than having old veterans who have already hit their ceiling.

  3. Boy, I was SO confident that Brees would not have his way. What the hell happened???

    The game seemed like a fluke in many regards, because even though they had a holding penalty on a field goal that would have given them the lead, they had to feel as though luck was on their side most of the game.

    That being said, how could the Packers just let Brees do whatever he wanted? They proved in 2010 that they can contain the elite quarterbacks in the game, why is it taking so long for this team to get back to that form?

  4. this defense is better than last year. 27 points to the saints if pretty good actually. there is no shame in that. they gave up a lot of yards passing, but they shut the run game down.

    3rd and 17 above was an incredible throw. of smith gets an extra yard on his drop like he should brees cannot throw that pass. i think it is funny that most people want to blitz every down. the best defenses in the NFL use the blitz very sparingly. if you are blitzing you are automatically creating bad mismatches in coverage.

    Capers is fine. 27 points (7 of which should have been called back on offensive PI) against the saints is not bad defense.

    1. Considering the Saints came into the game with a 27.7 ppg average, I’d say we can’t really call the Packers defense worse than average based just on that.

      Which is better than last year…

  5. also, on the second play, do not blame capers for dj smith and CM3 standing around in no mans land with their thumbs up their butts. either rush the passer or get in your drop.

    1. The Packers will learn how to play zone eventually. Consider the young, new peices. It’s mostly a question of experience. Playing man against bunched receivers is the wrong way to go.

  6. “Some of the miscommunications on Sunday could be attributed to safety Morgan Burnett wearing the headset instead of linebacker D.J. Smith. But through four games this season, this team has some similarities to the 2009 Packers”.(Marques Eversoll)

    A new guy with the comms helmet, plus a newish ‘dollar’ lineup that the DBs haven’t had much practice with, plus a hurry up pace by the Saints, plus an excellent QB, plus a short time between snap and ball thrown. All these make for errors in the Packers backfield. Things ought to get better, as you don’t normally get a perfect storm of so many things combined, making it very tough for the Packers. At the very least we don’t face many QBs of Brees quality and the defense has time to practice the dollar more and understand their responsibilities within it better.

  7. The D is already average (which is better than it was last year). The young guys will continue to improve. By the end of the year, this will be a solid to very, very good D. Not historically good, but very good.

    The pressure is better. Stopping the run is better. The Pass D is better.

    I believe this team is really going to push for the SB.

    1. Stopping the run was impressive against the Saints. They are 11th in YPR, so nothing to scoff at.

  8. All I know is that BJ Raji is tremendously overrated and should be resigned cheaply or not at all.

    Even with help off the bench he’s not as strong as he should be, gets winded quickly, and has a nasty temper.

    Worst defensive performance the first quarter of the season goes to him.

  9. As pointed out, Brees was a huge factor and he got the ball out fast. While, the Packers are much better at man-to-man, they have to learn how to play zone against bunched formations. This is where inexperience is killing them, but there’s no reason it’s not fixabable. The Saints game should be a great learning experience.

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