Green and Bold: Always Be Closing

The Packers offense has been one of the best in the league when it comes to putting points on the board early and often; Green Bay ranks No. 2 in the league in first half points scored per game, with 15.2. 

But so many times this season, when it comes to the second half and, specifically, the fourth quarter of games, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense finds itself sitting on the bench watching the defense let the team's lead slip away. Green Bay is 20th in the league in second-half points allowed per game, with 11.6, and a cringe worthy 26th in fourth-quarter points allowed, with 7.5. 

If the Packers want to advance to and advance through the playoffs, it all starts with playing better defense in the second half. 

Green Bay's Week 15 matchup against the Chicago Bears is the perfect illustration of this problem. The Packers closed out the third quarter leading 27-10. But after allowing the Bears to score two touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter, the game was all tied up 27-27 and a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired gave the Packers the win, but just barely, 30-27. 

This happened against Matt Barkley and the Bears, whom the Packers frankly made look much better than he is as he passed for 362 yards and two touchdowns. Sure, they intercepted him three times, and both head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers will espouse the importance of winning the turnover battle. 

But interceptions and fumble recoveries are bonus plays. They should never be part of the game plan. In Week 17 against the Detroit Lions and then, if they make it in, in the postseason, the defense needs to be able to win on fundamentals and sound scheming. 

Those are two parts of the same coin, and so often when things go wrong for the Packers defense it's not solely player execution or Capers' scheme, but a mix of both. It's also a chicken-and-egg quandary; some might argue that poor execution forces Capers to change up the scheme to force improvement, while others might say Capers' schematic adjustments make things too difficult on the players. 

For instance, against Chicago, the Packers moved to prevent defense far too early, and the Bears receivers had a field day against the secondary as a result. Green Bay relying on Cover 3 allowed Barkley to get his team down the field with multiple successful short-to-intermediate throws that the Packers struggled to defend. 

In the fourth quarter alone, Barkley was able to find Alshon Jeffery for 23 yards over the middle on a 1st-and-15, and then went back to him on the very next play for 27 yards. 

On the first Jeffery completion, inside linebacker Jake Ryan got completely burned, and that was another problem with Capers' personnel choices. Capers found great success using safety Morgan Burnett in zone coverage against the Seattle Seahawks; when Ryan assumed those duties against Chicago, the Bears were able to exploit him. 

Any team that's able to score 17 points in the fourth quarter of a game should be in position to win that game, and the way Green Bay's defense played, the Bears should have. It was only thanks to the heroics of Aaron Rodgers that the Packers were able to get into position for Crosby's walk-off field goal to clinch the win. 

And that's where the chicken-and-egg problem rears its head. The Packers secondary in 2016 has proven to be incredibly vulnerable to big plays. As a result, Capers moves into prevent defense late in games, trying to eliminate the possibility of opposing quarterbacks scoring on a quick strike with lots of time remaining on the clock. 

But teams keep finding ways to creep back into it, and one of these times it's going to spell disaster for the Packers. 

Overall, in their last two meetings against the Bears and the Minnesota Vikings the Packers have allowed 29 fourth-quarter points. 

And now they prepare to take on perhaps the best fourth-quarter-comeback orchestrator in the league in Matthew Stafford, who has in fact set a record for them this season with eight. 

There are multiple keys to beating the Lions, including getting the run game going behind Ty Montgomery, getting pressure on Stafford up front, and protecting the football. But perhaps the biggest onus falls on the secondary, especially if the Packers take a lead into the fourth quarter. Because the script that has been written in 2016 tells us that the Packers will give up big points and that Stafford will lead his team to a heroic comeback. 

But flipping that script in Week 17 will allow the Packers to advance into the playoffs with a fresh start, cleansed of their regular-season mistakes. 

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Comments (20)

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Savage57's picture

December 28, 2016 at 06:52 am

It's up to the Packers offense to ensure this ridiculously porous and unreliable defense is a non-factor in this game.

For more seasons than all of us care to remember, there've been so many times late game leads have been blown by the defense, then re-taken by the offense only to be ultimately squandered away as DB's watch the backs of jerseys.

If the Packers can take a 4 TD lead into the 4th quarter, when there's :30 remaining, the lead's been whittled to 7 and the Packers have recovered an onside KO attempt, then Larivee can start talking about daggers,

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Hematite's picture

December 28, 2016 at 06:57 am

I'm having nightmares about Stafford shredding our secondary in this game.
This could be a 42-40 type shootout.
I just hope we get the last possession and Aaron and/or Crosby are able to perform some magic.

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dschwalm's picture

December 28, 2016 at 11:28 am

Based on 15 games so far this season your nightmares are about to be realized this Sunday night. I have accepted the fact that the defence will lose the game in the 4th Q. and Stafford will be heralded as the phenomenal "come back kid" again.
It's a crying shame but the silver lining of this outcome may be that Capers gets fired, and TT is on a very short lease and will be gone by midway through 2017 when his defensive draft picks are yet another bust. Talk about a waste of draft picks the last 6 years!!!

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Since '61's picture

December 28, 2016 at 08:02 am

Very good article Michele and very accurate. As Savage has pointed out we have seen the late game comeback against the Packers defense far too often over the last several seasons even with our best CBs on the field. I totally agree that Capers moves to the prevent defense too early in games. Since this has happened over several seasons with different groups of personnel I'm pretty confident that it is a matter of scheme more than personnel. In trying to prevent the big play Capers prevent defense allows opposing QBs to bring their team down the field with 4-5 quick medium range passes plus some YAC. Besides coverage problems Capers often goes with a 3 man rush which allows the opposing QB too much time to find an open man down the field, rather than at least forcing the QB to move and throw on the run. Caper's prevent defense has proven over the last several seasons that all it prevents are Packer victories. Hopefully that will change this Sunday in Detroit. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since '61

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dschwalm's picture

December 28, 2016 at 11:31 am

You are right on the money, "Since '61, but I am afraid it won't change for this game. The game has passed him by, as has been said too many times in the past 4 or 5 years!!!!!!

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

December 28, 2016 at 08:11 am

McCarthy and Capers still think they will be best served by going conservative with a 14+ point lead. They didn't learn their lesson in the NFC Championship or in multiple games before or after. They aren't ever going to learn it. It's just a reality of the current regime we are all going to have to deal with.

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zoellner25's picture

December 28, 2016 at 08:47 am

This team has always done this under MM. They get too complacent with the current score and don't keep their foot on the gas. Quit being nice MM and stomp teams out!

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carusotrap's picture

December 28, 2016 at 09:11 am

Not to be contrary, but you have to wonder if Capers' scheme would work better if he wasn't always fighting to find personnel who can actually play professional football.

Either we find a DC who can design and execute a scheme that fits the personnel he's given, or find a GM who is willing to do enough to populate the scheme the DC wants.

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scullyitsme's picture

December 28, 2016 at 10:23 am

Um, id say that's exactly what Dom is doing. He's fitting his scheme to his players, you play a lot of prevent when your top corner is out and or playing hurt. You people want miracles, it's kind of ridiculous. I think Damaris Randall is a stud, and Rollins, just like they where last year, they are both playing hurt and without Sam shields this year. That's neither personnel or scheme, it's just what you have to do.

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dschwalm's picture

December 28, 2016 at 11:33 am

Um, have you not been watching the last few years????? The scheme has been the same since he got canned as a dismal HC,

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vj_ostrowski's picture

December 28, 2016 at 09:18 am

For starters, let me be clear that I do think that late game defense is BY FAR the biggest thing that will hamstring this team. I think this column is spot on in that regard.

But I also do get tired of seeing 3-and-outs when the offense has a chance to put a team away, too. I don't even need the offense to score, necessarily, but I'd love to see them burn more clock than they seem to be capable of, on average. One of the things I have always said, even though I like MM as a coach overall, is that he will never emphasize running the ball. With 12 at QB, that will be okay most of the time, but you'll never have an O that can grind it out on the ground when you need to ice away a game.

One thing about the defense though. I said in an earlier comments section that I think of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens when I think of how this team could possibly make a SB run. I also think of the Packers defensive performance against San Fran in their 2nd playoff game against them. Our D was depleted and we expected the 49ers to kill us. We held them to 23 points and it was our offense that didn't hold up its end. We had no business holding that team down the way we did, with the team we fielded. We had the 25th D overall. It was the offense that was stymied.

I think this defense can surprise (and I would consider holding these high velocity offenses like Dallas and Atlanta to the low 20's to be a surprise) and as long as the offense holds up its end of the donkey, we can make a little run.

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croatpackfan's picture

December 28, 2016 at 02:01 pm

This is what I see too. Exactly... How many points Packers scored in 4th Q against Bears and how many points Packers scored in 3rd Q against Vikings?

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ShanghaiKid's picture

December 28, 2016 at 09:49 am

My biggest issue is that the defense has been this way since 2011, with the 2014/2015 season being the outlier. With the exorbitant amount of picks used for that side of the ball, it blows me away that this is still an issue 5 seasons later. I'm not calling for anyone's head here, but something needs to be changed/adjusted, whether it's in their scouting, drafting, or coaching because what they are doing now obviously isn't working.

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dschwalm's picture

December 28, 2016 at 11:38 am

That's exactly the point I, and many others have made over the years. Waste in defensive draft picks. We draft "stars" with excellent resumes and Capers turns them into "duds" to wit: Damarius Randall who should be spending most of the game on the bench. He is a disaster!!!

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scullyitsme's picture

December 28, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Yeah, that's right, damarius was a stud In college, a stud as a rookie for the packers, then all of a sudden, for got how to play, and joe whit forgot how to coach, and MM forgot how coach joe Whitt, and TT forgot how to draft, OR, maybe he can barely play, he wasn't even suppose to play last week unless an emergency, the dude can barely walk, pay attention.

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Lphill's picture

December 28, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Stafford is still dealing with a broken or dislocated finger he is not putting up 45 points .

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egbertsouse's picture

December 28, 2016 at 12:38 pm

The problem with going to the "prevent". Is that you are supposed to let them catch it underneath and then quickly make the tackle and limit the yardage. Unfortunately, Capers does not think that it is important to teach tackling so there are usually 3 or 4 whiffs before the play is over for an additional 10 to 15 yards.

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ironman3169's picture

December 28, 2016 at 06:17 pm

In this day and age, I doubt any team practices tackling. The CBA limits practice time so to spend a padded practice on tackling would take away important game planning time. Not to mention the risk of injury.

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Lphill's picture

December 28, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Also the Lions only beat one team above 500 .

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Tundraboy's picture

December 29, 2016 at 12:26 am

"interceptions and fumble recoveries are bonus plays. They should never be part of the game plan. In Week 17 against the Detroit Lions and then, if they make it in, in the postseason, the defense needs to be able to win on fundamentals and sound scheming. "

With the exception of one or two games a year, that is not our Packers D. Not since Collins and Woodson that's for sure. But hey you never know. Maybe we will have two such games this post season, and have the O win the rest.

At the same time if we can avoid 3 and outs in second half and MM stops with the Turtle O, we can overcome the prevent. The combination of all three has always served to let teams back into the game. Step on the gas for 4 qtrs MM.

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