Green and Bold: It's on the Defense Now

The Packers offense has been quietly improving for a few weeks now, but it's the improving defense that will have to lead the team to the playoffs. 

Anyone who's watched the Packers over the last month—and all the power to you if you suffered through that stretch and made it out the other side—knows that the offense, and Aaron Rodgers especially, has been coming together over that stretch. 

That was, of course, only cemented on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Rodgers completed a season-high 76.9 percent of his passes and threw for 313 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.

But something that got lost amidst all the noise surrounding the Packers' struggles during their four-game losing streak was the fact that over those games, Rodgers was actually starting to look more like the quarterback we're used to seeing take the field for Green Bay. He was fitting the ball into those same tight windows, looking more decisive in his releases, and orchestrating superb scoring drives in the two-minute offense. 

That all culminated in his performance Monday night, his best in many weeks. But what really secured the win for the Packers against the Eagles was the performance on the other side of the ball. 

It's no secret that Green Bay's defense has been ravaged by injuries. Damarious Randall has played just five games. Clay Matthews has taken the field in only seven. The Packers were missing starting inside linebacker Jake Ryan on Monday. Sam Shields is on IR. Morgan Burnett missed two games. 

You get the picture. 

The Packers reached a breaking point on defense in the last month. Over the last four games, Green Bay allowed 117.8 rushing yards per game on average after holding opponents to just 74.4 per game on the season prior to that. Not to mention, the front seven was looking downright stout in the first four games of the season, when it allowed 50 or fewer rushing yards per game on average. 

The pass defense suffered a similarly ugly fate, including an embarrassing showing in Week 11 against Washington when it gave up 364 passing yards and 42 points. 

Over their four-game losing streak, the Packers were giving up an average of 38.25 points per game. That's ugly. 

But on Monday, something clicked. It certainly had something to do with the return of Randall and Matthews, two important leaders in the secondary and front seven.

Like a machine springing to life after a missing part is installed, the Packers defense looked the way a defense should look. Pressures created by the front seven led directly to opportunities for the secondary, such as when Datone Jones delivered a huge hit on Carson Wentz. Clearly shaken, Wentz threw an interception right into the hands of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on the very next play. 

Green Bay also finally cracked down on the run, no small feat considering that, with Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles, the Eagles are averaging 114.9 rushing yards per game, eighth-most in the NFL. Against the Packers front seven, however, Philadelphia managed only 81 yards on the ground.

Of course, an NFL game is a balancing act between all three phases, and, like a traffic signal or the United States government, all three need to work to be successful. The offense's success, due largely to an excellent game plan by Mike McCarthy, put the defense in position to be successful. The Packers went 10-of-14 on third downs and 1-1 on fourth downs, ensuring that the defense wasn't breathlessly returning to the field every few minutes. 

The Packers are still in the playoff hunt; there's still a world in which they win the NFC North. But while the offense has been quietly improving for a few weeks, it's now on the defense to move up to the next level and accept the challenges of the remaining scheduled head-on. 

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Comments (29)

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Lphill's picture

November 30, 2016 at 06:57 am

Why not bring in Antonio Cromartie at least for his veteran experience I'm sure he can use some money to help with his child support .

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dobber's picture

November 30, 2016 at 10:39 am

I wondered the same about Perrish Cox who was recently released by Tennessee.

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ricky's picture

November 30, 2016 at 12:06 pm

This is also for lphill. The idea that you can simply bring in a player on offense or defense and throw him into the lineup immediately is nonsense. They need to learn the scheme, the calls that are made on the field just before the snap, among other things. Besides, anyone who is released this late in the season is unlikely to be a player who is going to make a difference.

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dobber's picture

November 30, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I don't disagree in that regard. But the level of desperation at some point has to create a market for what's available. It says something, then, that they didn't bite on those guys.

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Savage57's picture

November 30, 2016 at 07:00 am

What gives me some measure of hope was watching a defense that played with more aggressiveness, taking the play to the ball instead of waiting for it to come to them.

There were instances where Packers defenders were caught on their heels (and usually got beat because of it), but for the most part, they played with decidedly more fire and bad intention for the Eagles.

Now the only thing they need to do is build on that and continue to play with that style and not revert to an overly defensive style of playing defense.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 07:04 am

The Packers best defense is their offense right now. With the offense using ball control and controlling the time of possession it limits how much the defense is on the field.

Against the Eagles the Packers had 4 Drives of double digit number of plays, and also had a 9 play drive. They had zero 3 and outs.

The previous 3 losses they had 5 drives of double digit number of plays, and 11 three and outs.

Against Washington they started with 3 three and outs which essentially lead to Washington's first TD. The field position game at the beginning of that game is what cost the defense early.

The offense can help the defense out, by getting a lot of first downs, and using a lot of plays on each drive.

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Razer's picture

November 30, 2016 at 07:38 am

Totally agree. Time of possession was something like 35 minutes. Keep the defense off the field is the our best tactic.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 08:11 am

The long drives really helped. I mean in the last game they had 4 drives of double digit plays. In the 3 previous losses that happened 5 times. The offense didn't do the defense many favors in those 3 losses.

The offense changed that Monday night. And that wasn't against an easy defense. The Eagles ranked 8th in yards allowed and tied for 5th in scoring allowed.

A very good showing by the offense in this game. They got the lead and never let go of it.

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Nick Perry's picture

November 30, 2016 at 09:01 am

A big reason why is the reasons you mentioned yesterday, the short passing game. Call it the same as a running game, an extension of the running game, call it whatever you want, it was critical to the Packers success. Even on the passes that gained only 3 or 4 yards, they were a lot better than the opening play for example, a 2 yard loss running the ball by Starks. Defenses adjust but until they do let the defenses force McCarthy to do something else instead of McCarthy totally getting away from what WAS/IS working

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 09:23 am

Maybe we should wait till Stroh tells us what we can call it.

They just kept getting first downs. That was huge for the defense because it kept them off the field. And when they did get on the field, the Eagles didn't have great starting field position. The Eagles best starting field position was from their 25. That made a difference in the game as well.
The offense had a lot to do with that.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 10:29 am

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dobber's picture

November 30, 2016 at 10:04 am

I would argue that when the defense is giving up big plays, as it did over the losing streak, that TOP doesn't really mean that much. In each of those 4 losses during the streak, the Packers either won or were essentially even in TOP. But when you win TOP like they did against Philly, that does help. The Packers are 8th in the league in average TOP right now at 31.5 min per game (that Chicago game helps a lot).

If you're going to win TOP, you need to be scoring points...preferably 7s over 3s. That's Dallas's recipe for success right now: their defense is bottom third, but they own the ball (on average) for 33+ minutes per game. It's hard to beat a team that both limits your possessions and scores points when it gets the ball.

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Tundraboy's picture

November 30, 2016 at 08:35 am

Spot on RC. Zero 3 and outs, didn't realize that.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 09:24 am

that was a huge stat in this game IMO. The Redskins games they started the game with 3.... Big difference.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 07:15 am

Something else that will help the defense is in the upcoming games they will be facing much worse offenses then they just have faced. They play the 29th (Texans), 17th (Seahawks), 16th (Bears), 32nd (Vikings, and 26th (Lions) ranked offenses in yards per game.

In Scoring offenses those same teams rank 30, 23, 31, 24, 19.

This is in comparison to the last 5 games they played (they were 1-4 in those games), the offenses ranked in yards per game 3 (Falcons), 15 (Colts), 7 (Titans), 2 (Redskins), 20 (Eagles)

Points per game they ranked 1, 12, 5, 9, 15.

The fact is the defense will be going up against weaker offenses.

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Razer's picture

November 30, 2016 at 07:53 am

You are right that the Philly offense was not in the park on Monday. Other than the TE, Wentz didn't have much to throw at. Our defense was assisted by a rookie QB and a depleted WR corps.

I wouldn't put too much weight in the statistical ranking of the offenses that we will face going forward. It is December football and the best will rise to the top. Russell Wilson and his WR have made fun of this defense in the past. The Lions are playing well, Stafford is playing well and he has a ton of weapons at his disposal. They will be our biggest challenge.

To this point our defense probably ranks first in missed assignments and big plays allowed. They need to show that mistakes are NOT going to be the story going forward.

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RCPackerFan's picture

November 30, 2016 at 08:19 am

yeah, our defense was assisted by those things. But, we finally got back our 2nd best CB (now our best). He should be better going forward.

yeah, whats the old saying 'stats are for losers'. And every week can be completely different. But at this point in the season you can get a pretty good idea of where teams are in terms of what they are good at. The rankings show that the remaining teams they play against are in the bottom half of the league offensively and the previous teams they have played are in the top half.

One thing going for the defense is they got back Randall which will be a huge lift to the defense. They will hopefully get Ryan back soon and Martinez at some point.
Hopefully Mathews injury isn't long term.

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dobber's picture

November 30, 2016 at 10:42 am

I think that in the past, the Packers have geared up to stop the run against Seattle and taken their chances in the pass game. The OL there is atrocious and the run game has done little for them all season. I think the Packers take the same approach they took with the Giants: play essentially nickel and dime throughout to try to make moving the ball through the air hard, and hope you can still stop the run.

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Finwiz's picture

December 01, 2016 at 11:25 am

I understand your point, and it's all good statistics, but against the Packers defense, all bets are off. With that secondary, GB can make anyone look like a Super Bowl team. I wouldn't hang my hat on statistics, as bad as our defense is right now. I view the last game more as an anomaly than some shift in level of play. That rookie QB on the Eagles did not look very confident at all, and he missed plenty of throws to open receivers.

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Razer's picture

November 30, 2016 at 08:11 am

Sorry but I am going to follow behind the wagon for a little bit. We had one good and consistent game. We played a rookie QB with no WRs. Aaron Rodgers made all the plays including ones that shouldn't be made. It was what the doctor ordered. And, it may be enough to "get this party started".

As RCPackerFan points out, our best defense is a good offense. Rodgers will need to keep the heat turned up going forward. That means no slow starts, playing with a lead and controlling the TOP. Make teams chase us and force then to become one dimensional.

I am not sold on this defense in any way. We are thin at corner, weak over the middle, have had trouble getting to the QB, give up the big play and are mistake prone. Yes, our success will depend on them playing at a higher level but I will put my money on the offense and hope that the defense is on the sidelines when the game is on the line.

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Finwiz's picture

December 01, 2016 at 11:27 am

Very good post, and about sums it all up perfectly. It isn't time to start spinning cartwheels about GB's chances of making the playoffs. Get back to me when they win 4 in a row and we can talk then.

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Lphill's picture

November 30, 2016 at 10:12 am

We need to get Michaels going this Sunday , everyone dogs Lacy but forgets how good he is in December with his bruising runs , we will miss that this year unless Michaels can step up he will have about 3 weeks of practice come this Sunday . Let's feed him.

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Dzehren's picture

December 01, 2016 at 08:58 pm

Excellent point! BTW its Christine Michael.

You confused me with Super Bowl OL John Michels LOL
I give u a thumbs up! Great point

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al bundy's picture

November 30, 2016 at 06:13 pm

The offense and defense did itz job. I was more shocked at the eagles. Its like they knew there fate befoere the game and the suffing was already out of them it seemed to me. Not even close to the team I watched n week three. Shocked.
Hey, if the pack gives it all it has and goes down in flames i applaud them. Time some stiffs need to light a fire: datone, perry, mathews, all thed backs including dix.
No more fn excuses either you can play or you cant

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Dzehren's picture

December 01, 2016 at 09:07 pm

Bundy- Go fit some ladies shoes in Chicago and cheer on Cutler. U & ur Bears fans are not worthy of A-ROD.
Beating the Eagles at Philly is very tough. Every Packer fan understands that Philly is a hostile environment.
Great win- go pack go

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Dzehren's picture

December 01, 2016 at 06:44 pm

Cheesehead TV posters-
Can we rebuild the defense in the draft & free agency (caveat trader ted RARELY dips his feet in the H20) TT may retire soon so he might swing 4 the fences-
Shields 10M gone gone
Peppers 10M gone gone
Matthews 10M gone/ re-negotiate - my favorite player but cant justify 10M @ ILB position, hamstring's, availability is the best ability
1. Re-sign average Danone Jones on prove it contract & sign capable Perry to a 3 year deal.
2. Sign 3 defensive role players in FA & 3 mid round draft picks) 2 CB, 1 ILB, 2 OLB, 1 DL HUGE GILBERT BROWN TYPE- Maddens favorite packer other than Favre
If we don' sign perry & jones TT will put in a UDFA from some obscure college. What are your thoughts?

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Dzehren's picture

December 01, 2016 at 09:18 pm

Bundy- Go fit some ladies shoes in Chicago and cheer on Cutler. U & ur Bears fans are not worthy of A-ROD.
Beating the Eagles at Philly is very tough. Every Packer fan understands that Philly is a hostile environment.
Great win- go pack go

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Dzehren's picture

December 04, 2016 at 11:21 pm

Is there any way peppers plays in GB next year? His 3 year contract expires this year (8.5 Million) Julius plays about 50% of
the snaps & his availability on game
Day is second to none. Would he take role player money or should we invest the 8.5MILLION in a younger FA?

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tech2121's picture

March 14, 2017 at 03:40 am

Nice read, thanks for share.
http://www.truewordings.com

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