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Did Packers' Starting Defense Pass the Preseason Test?

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Did Packers' Starting Defense Pass the Preseason Test?

Green Bay Packers defenders Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers by Benny Sieu—USA TODAY Sports.

Green Bay Packers defenders Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers by Benny Sieu—USA TODAY Sports.

Three touchdowns blemish the overall body of work, but the Green Bay Packers must otherwise feel satisfied with the way the club's starting defense played this preseason. 

The first unit may not play any more than a series in the exhibition finale against the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night, so the majority of the preseason work has already been completed. 

McCarthy was pleased after Green Bay's 31-21 win over the Oakland Raiders last Friday night.

"I feel good about where our starters are coming out of this game," Mike McCarthy said. 

Over three games, the Packers starting defense allowed 189 yards on 48 plays, or roughly 3.9 yards per play. Eleven opponent drives netted 20 points but also eight punts, including five three-and-outs. 

Four penalties gave offenses 49 free yards, but only once did an opponent score on a drive featuring a defensive penalty. 

The first-team defense was especially strong against the run, allowing just 85 yards over 23 attempts. Tennessee and St. Louis rushed 14 times for just 31 yards. Take away Maurice Jones-Drew's 40-yard run last Friday night, and the Packers allowed only one run over five yards (Dexter McCluser's 7-yard run on 3rd-and-13). 

Tennessee's Jake Locker completed 1-of-2 passes for 5 yards. Matt Schaub went 5-of-11 for 17 yards and one sack versus the first-team defense last Friday. Sam Bradford got the better of Green Bay's first unit, completing 9-of-12 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. 

Overall, the three quarterbacks combined to complete 15-of-25 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown against the Packers starters. The trio averaged less than five yards per attempt. 

Pass rush has made a difference. Mike Daniels, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Mike Neal have combined for 14 quarterback disruptions. Daniels has been unblockable and Peppers has been more active each week. 

The touchdowns were a result of mistakes the Packers likely consider fixable. 

On Shonn Greene's 13-yard run in Tennessee, Peppers and Daniels lost gap contain, and Brad Jones was slow to react to the cutback. Otherwise, Peppers, Daniels and the rest of the Packers defense have generally fit the run well this preseason. 

Bradford's touchdown pass finished off a long drive that also featured a 41-yard completion. The actual score was the result of a pin-point throw that beat Micah Hyde by an inch or two. The two completions represent the only mentionable mistakes from the Packers starting secondary during August. 

Finally, Jones-Drew broke through the Packers defense on 3rd-and-2 after Morgan Burnett crashed down and missed his tackle, Hyde overplayed to the outside and missed his tackle and A.J. Hawk got lost in a mess of bodies and then his missed his last-ditch tackle. Those three missed tackles represented half of the starting defense's six so far this preseason. 

"The 40-yard run was not acceptable," Hawk said. "We settled down and found a way to get off the field. We can hopefully draw back on that later this season when we're in some adversity-type situations."

Circumstances provide context. Tennessee's touchdown came after a muffed punt gave the Titans the football at the Green Bay 13-yard line. The Raiders followed their touchdown with five straight three-and-out drives that netted zero yards. 

"I think our No. 1 defense … I thought we dominated the line of scrimmage," McCarthy said Friday. "Three-and-outs speak for themselves. I was very pleased with the first unit."

The Packers clearly weren't perfect in the preseason. Preventing big plays and limiting damage on the scoreboard are top priorities for a good defense. 

Still, the Green Bay starters did enough good things—against the run, pressuring the quarterback and getting off the field—to consider the preseason a success. Bringing those positives to the regular season is the next step in the process. 


Zach Kruse contributes to Cheesehead TV. He is also the Lead Writer for the NFC North at Bleacher Report. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (21) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

Hardly a murder's row of offenses, but, still, the defense has been a pleasant surprise this pre-season (the run defense particularity).

jeremyjjbrown's picture

The Defense looked pretty good at the start of last season too. To keep it up they are going to have to stay relatively healthy and make better in game adjustments than in the past.

Bearmeat's picture

Overall I'm satisfied, but the 10 of 12 for 100 yards by a upper-middle QB in Bradford does give me pause.

Bottom line though, the defense only has to be top 12 or so for GB to contend for the super bowl because the offense is going to be scary.

I think the improved safety play and improved pass rush should be able to do that.

Zola Davis's picture

The Seattle game will tell all. If Lynch schools the ILB's and Safties; we won't be singing praises. But if they can get this fixed, they will dominate into February. That run by MJD was troublesome.

RCPackerFan's picture

I really try not to get overly excited or concerned with what happens in preseason. Teams don't game plan like they do in regular season and teams really do more standard formations/plays.

This all being said, overall I am happy with the defense to this point. There are things that I am really looking forward to seeing especially in the Seahawks game.

I think the pass rush will be a lot better. I really like all the options we have now (Mathews, Peppers, Neal, Perry, Daniels, Jones).
The one thing that I saw in the preseason games that I really, really like is how Capers is moving guys around. I have seen Mathews at ILB, LOLB, ROLB. Peppers has played in 2 and 3 point stances and has played everywhere on the line.
Daniels has been very, very active and I have been happy with what I have seen from Jones. both are getting good penetration.

Also, I really like our secondary. Safety shouldn't be a weakness anymore. Our CB's have to be the best in the league from 1-5. House has really been playing well.

My biggest concern going into the season is the run defense. And with losing Raji, my concern is a little greater there. We will find out how good the run defense is the 1st week going against Lynch.

Overall though I'm happy with where the defense is right now.

Evan's picture

True - results don't mean much.

But stuff like guys lining up all over the place (as you said) or the intensity and the way everyone's swarming to the ball/gang tackling are welcome sights that will hopefully carry over.

RCPackerFan's picture

no they don't.

That's the stuff I watch for. I watch for personal matchups and see how individuals do. But like you said, the intensity and the way everyone swarms to the ball is great things to see.

I do believe the defense will be much improved this year. I have said it before but it just feels like Capers has finally figured out that he has to adjust his defense to fit the players he has vs trying to make the players work in his defense.

Point Packer's picture

I still worry in general about Brad Jones and our safeties - as a unit.

Archie's picture

I'm pretty much in agreement with last two comments - things look better on defense but the preseason is virtually meaningless so we really don't know yet.

Article would have been better had you given comparative stats from last year's preseason.

Current DL can move. That alone is a big improvement. So far so good w Peppers. Neal looks like he will be a force rushing the passer. If Perry or Elliot come through, we will be much improved in pass rush. That combined with a stronger secondary should result in lots of TOs. And, as we know, TOs = wins, usually. So yes, I am cautiously optimistic that MM's shake-up of Dom Capers looks to be working, combined with better play from lots of positions. Add that to an offense led by AROD/Lacy and Packer fans should be feeling good on the eve of the season. But, I will reserve final judgment till I have seen 3 or 4 games that count.

cuervo's picture

I agree the defense should be better. My major concern is that we still have Morgan Burnett starting at safety. he hasn't shown diddly since he's been here, and is still the weak link in the back end of the defense. The only thing saved him last year was that he was slightly better than other safeties.
My hope is that the improved pass rush will help cover up the Burnett's "issues".

Packatron's picture

According to Vikings radio's Paul Allen, the Packers D doesn't scare him at all. Peterson will still be able to run all over them and the Bears/Lions will still be able to pass all over them.

I'm really hoping he will be 100% wrong because I love listening to his soundbites when the Vikings collapse. His call on the Favre INT in the NFC Championship game was epic. I could listen to that on a loop.

Evan's picture

Peterson may run all over them and the Bears/Lions may pass all over them, but the Packers will still beat all of them.

Packatron's picture

This is true.

waynef43's picture

Lacy might out rush him....

4thand1's picture

That must be imfubard

Otto's picture

The only way Paul Allen could say less is to talk more.

A guy around football that much, with as much access to inside information, to be that wrong, that often is mind boggling.

To quote Bugs Bunny, "What an imbasil!"

marcopo's picture

I'm in agreement with most of the comments here. There is no reason the defense won't be more, if not, substantially better this year. First, this year we'll have safeties. 2nd the depth of both LB'ers and DLmen are much better. 3rd, Capers defenses have always required discipline, i.e. veterans. When Capers has lost key players in the past, he's been forced to change scheme, which is what happened last year. Now, he can open the gates. Don't be surprised to see a much more aggressive defense

marcopo's picture

Prediction: By the 5th game Donnel will be the starting NT. He's huge, and he athletic, a rare combo. The way he's performed at both practice and games, they won't be able to keep him out.

marcopo's picture

OOPS. Of course, I was referring to Pennel.

Imma Fubared's picture

Something to consider. As Jimmy J used to say and as a track guy I get it: you can't coach speed.

Perry, Datone, Neal et al are not any faster then they were last year. I still see they are slow to the ball and slow to react at times.

If that doesn't change it could be a long season.

We will just have to see. They all were in a mix match so far and not as a unit yet.

marcopo's picture

Actually, all those guys have speed. But all are relatively young, and their reaction times should improve with experience. I seen that improvement during preseason. There is no such thing as a human who reacts perfectly every play.

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