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Red Zone 'D' Can't Be Sore Spot in 2017

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Red Zone 'D' Can't Be Sore Spot in 2017

Projected success in an upcoming season is often thought to hinge upon a few key factors. Make no mistake: For the Packers, one of those factors is red zone defense. 
 
Green Bay’s red zone struggles in 2016 paint an ugly picture. The Packers surrendered 28 red zone touchdowns, which equated to a 61.4 scoring percentage (sixth-worst in the league). Opposing quarterbacks completed 69 percent of their passes, with 18 touchdowns to just a single interception and an overall quarterback rating of 110.6. 
 
The Packers did some good things defensively in 2016, a fact that’s easily lost because of the unit’s big play susceptibility and harsh memories of an injury-ruined cornerback corps. Pass rush was an area of strength and, overall, run defense was more than adequate. But explosive plays and red zone weakness led to the unit—often known for bending but not breaking—to simply disappearing when the field got short. 
 
Juxtapose their defensive red zone trials with quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ wizard-like abilities and it’s easy to understand the value good red zone play. Rodgers’ red zone numbers from last season are stupefying: 31 of his league-leading 40 touchdowns came inside the opponents’ 20. Plus, Rodgers didn’t throw a single interception. The closer the team got to the end zone, the deadlier Rodgers became. Inside the opponents 10, he completed 67 percent of his passes and hurled 24 touchdowns. All four of his rushing touchdowns also, naturally, came in the red zone. (His 20-yard scamper against the Titans was nearly outside the red zone margin.)
 
Under head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers have more often than not had their way with moving up and down the field. Having Rodgers’ improvisational abilities, combined with smart playmakers and quality pass blocking offensive lines, their overall red zone effectiveness has played a major part in defining their success. 
 
According to Football Outsiders, the Packers surrendered 5.36 points per red zone trip from opponents. Only the Browns, Lions, Falcons and Rams were worse. (One could argue that Atlanta’s absurdly efficient, high-scoring offense left the opposition constantly playing catch-up and likely scoring red zone touchdowns late in games that were basically decided.)
 
This red zone inefficiency hasn’t been a consistent sore spot for defensive coordinator Dom Capers, but there has definitely been room for improvement. In 2015, Green Bay ranked a modest 13th in the league in red zone scoring percentage (54.2) but ranked 23rd in 2014 and 20th in 2013. When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010-11, they allowed touchdowns on just 51.2 percent of red zone trips. 
 
Thankfully, there are reasons to be hopeful for a turnaround next season. 
 
For starters, second-round pick Kevin King is a bonafide red zone defender. His length and jumping ability should come in handy. Former first-round pick Damarious Randall also appears headed toward a starting role in the slot, where both the stats and film show he’s a natural fit. Davon House and Ladarius Gunter have some man press capabilities and the latter’s lack of speed is less of an issue with a short field. 
 
Assuming defensive lineman Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry take sophomore season steps forward, they should be able to provide enough bulk next to stalwart Mike Daniels to free up what could be a safety behind them lined up at linebacker. Whether that’s Morgan Burnett or occasionally Josh Jones, we’ll see, but the point here is added athleticism and flexibility on defense. 
 
Green Bay did what it could to be defensively flexible last season, but they battled a numbers game. At times there weren’t enough bodies at cornerback to trot out anybody but cornerback other than Gunter, Randall and Quinten Rollins. Those last two never fully recovered from injuries. 
 
The Packers already hold a significant red zone advantage—on offense. If they can reclaim a level of consistency and competency on the defensive side, it will only help them in achieving their ultimate goal. 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (10) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Packer Fan's picture

This is one of the areas that the D will have to improve in this year. And the other is getting stops sometimes. Just like the article noted, like the Atlanta game, the Pack will fall behind in the game. It won't be the offense that brings them back. It will be the defense to make some stops or stop a drive short for a field goal. I still remember the Atlanta playoff game where Julius Jones changed a short crossing pattern into a long TD. It was so evident that the Pack was not going to stop Atlanta from scoring. It is difficult to overcome those situations. But they do happen like last years Super Bowl.

Packer Fan's picture

yes

Arthur Jackson's picture

I get what your saying but Atlanta was going to score on anybody. Until the last drive of the first half the defense had played well enough to keep the Packers in the game. Unfortunately against a terrible defense the Packer offense squander it's first two drives (missed FG/fumble on goal line) and followed that up with a 3 and out and a 5 play 3 yard drive ended with an interception (that led to the score right before the half).

It's a team game and the Packer offense was three time as good as the defense (at least) last year, so they should carry 75% of the game to the defenses 25%. Especially against a similar team that was loaded on offense and deficient on defense. Hopefully the team stays healthy and the defense can pick much more of the burden, especially against strong defensive teams that the offense will struggle against.

chugwater's picture

This is a pretty basic formula. Keep the opposition to field goals and let an AR led offense score TDs.

I'm old enough to remember when we were concerned about GB's end zone offense.

Nick Perry's picture

Just staying relatively healthy will improve them 10 spots or more in the red zone this season. I'm also looking forward to watching Rollins this year in the preseason. He seems to be the CB no one is talking about but was just as injured as Randall last year and actually had better rankings than Randall his rookie season IIRC.

packfan44's picture

I'M REALLY GETTING TIRED OF ALL THE SNIPERS AND CORRECTORS OUT THERE! THAT MEANS YOU DESERT PACKFAN..... DID ANYONE REALLY NOT KNOW WHO HE MEANT. GET REAL AND STOP THIS CHILDISH BEHAVOR.

Bearmeat's picture

Every offseason we are talking about how to fix the defense. Every. Single. Year.

You'd think that at some point the defensive coaches and personnel staff would be held accountable. Who's to blame for the annual defensive meltdowns? Is it the coaches? Then fire them. Is it the players? Then fire personnel staff.

This isn't really all that hard. Hold people accountable Murphy.

chugwater's picture

Every offseason this website and others talk about everything imaginable to bide our time for seven months from the Super Bowl to opening weekend. That includes offense, defense, special teams, GM, draft, the league, free agency, the front office, etc.

No one talked about 'fixing' the defense after 2014 and 2015. Sure there could be improvements, but that's true for every team in the league.

'This really isn't that hard.' Wow. Maybe you should pursue NFL jobs in Cleveland and Buffalo.

cheesehead1's picture

I agree. Hopefully this season we finally see a marked improvement. If not then wholesale changes on D will be expected.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

King is a monster improvement, but he's a rookie. Vets will school him in the red zone. House is a step up at #2 corner, but he's no savior. Randall, if healthy, is a big step up over Hyde at slot.

Coupled with ascending young talents on the D-Line, our new CB unit should produce red zone improvement.

But not much. We still lack talent to match up.

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