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Packers: Pumping the Brakes on Defense's Encouraging Start

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Packers: Pumping the Brakes on Defense's Encouraging Start

Just a year removed from allowing the most passing yards in NFL history and finishing with the worst sack percentage in football, the Green Bay Packers appear to have made massive strides on the defensive side in 2012.

But while the Packers defense is clearly more talented and playing better early in 2012, the breaks need to be pumped on calling this unit fixed for this season.

There is much left to learn about the Packers defense in 2012.

Of course, this is not to take away anything the Packers defense has accomplished early on. There are encouraging signs littering Green Bay's defensive statistics.

Through three weeks, opposing offenses are averaging an NFL-low 125 yards passing. The Packers also rank second in the NFL in sacks with 12, while recording one on almost 14 percent of drop backs.

In comparison, the 2011 Packers allowed 299 passing yards a game and had a sack percentage of less than five percent. Statistically, the 2012 defense has been night-and-day better.

But before this defense can be crowned as a reincarnate of the 2010 unit that was No. 4 against the pass and tied for first in sacks, let's put the Packers' start in a little bit of context.

Here are some things to think about:

Packers have always played well against Jay Cutler

Cutler, who completed just 11-of-27 passes for 126 yards and four interceptions in Week 2, has always struggled against a Dom Capers-led defense in Green Bay. In seven career games against the Packers, Cutler has averaged over two picks and three sacks a game with a passer rating of 60.1. His yards per attempt over those seven games is just 4.46, or over three yards less than his career average.

The Packers obviously amplified those numbers in Week 2 (seven sacks, four interceptions), but playing well against Cutler isn't some kind of revelation. Even in 2009, when the defense couldn't stop any elite quarterback, Cutler still threw six interceptions and had a passer rating under 65.

Russell Wilson has played like a rookie

Save for Cam Newton in Carolina last season, the Packers have historically fared well against rookie quarterbacks since Capers arrived on the scene in 2009. And despite all the adulation for Russell Wilson, the one-year wonder at UW who took Matt Flynn's job, he's been a fantastically average quarterback through three games.

Wilson has yet to throw for over 155 yards in a single contest, and his completion percentage, yards per attempt and QBR are all in the lower third of starting NFL quarterbacks. The point here: Green Bay's defense wasn't the first and won't be the last to hold Wilson to pedestrian numbers in 2012. Right now, that's who he is: A pedestrian quarterback who has handed the ball off more times than he's thrown it. How the Packers fared against him in the passing game isn't a great barometer of where this defense is.

Forgetting about San Francisco

Most have been quick to write off the defense's Week 1 performance after Capers pulled Jarrett Bush and M.D. Jennings the next week and replaced them with Sam Shields, Jerron McMillian and Casey Hayward (dime back). There's some cold, hard truth to that, too. Shields, McMillian and Hayward have each played really well the past two weeks.

But would having those three play more snaps in San Francisco have solved what ailed Green Bay in Week 1? Bush was a liability, allowing three catches. Jennings got mixed up in a communication error that led to one passing touchdown. Maybe Shields and McMillian handle those situations better, maybe not.

The fact of the matter remains that the Packers were out-executed and out-coached in Week 1, especially on defense. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith did what he wanted against everyone in the back seven, and the run game allowed a whopping 186 yards. Writing off that performance against the best offense the Packers have faced seems a little naive.

Looking Ahead

The Packers get their first real test of the season Sunday afternoon when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints come to Lambeau Field. Everything the Packers have accomplished the last two weeks will be put to the test, even if Brees has struggled in 2012 and the Saints aren't the statistical monster they were a season ago.

Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael remains, and the structure and personnel are largely unchanged. This will be a stern test for a young defense that will be and should be feeling confident about their early performances in 2012.

If the Packers defense overwhelms the Saints offensive line and handles Brees—expecting to keep Brees in the 150-yard range passing is asinine, but 200-225 is a realistic goal—maybe it will be time to label this defense a more distance relative to its ugly 2011 cousin. Or maybe Sunday could be a reality check.

Either way, we should have a better grasp on where this defense is by the end of Week 4. But until then, let's hesitate on calling this a fixed defense for the 2012 season.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (59) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

packsmack25's picture


Zach Kruse's picture

Wow. Thank you. That's what I get for attempting to write this at 1 a.m.

cow42's picture

what on earth are you talking about?

don't you know...

the Packers are fine. the offense is fine. the defense is fixed. when the Packers play bad it is not their fault. when the Packers lose it is not because they have deficiencies, it is because they didn't play up to their ultimately superior level. they will win next week. they will win every week. they will win the Super Bowl.

hey commenters...can you believe this guy?
must be a troll vikings fan.

Sizzle's picture


Ruppert's picture

That boy is just ate up with stupid.

Zach Kruse's picture

cow42, next time you copy and paste that comment on one of my articles, it's getting deleted.

Evan's picture

THANK you.

Idiot Fan's picture

Cow, your point loses its punch when you keep pasting that response on articles and comments where people are actually being critical of certain aspects of the team, or in this case, calling for a tempering of optimism. I don't see anyone around here claiming that there's nothing wrong with the team, although the suggestion that the offense is capable of playing better than it is isn't exactly blind homerism.

Anyway, I get the sense that you enjoy playing the part of the village dipshit, so I look forward to your continued insight and brilliance.

Evan's picture

Ignore the trolls.

MarkinMadison's picture

I think that is the only answer.

PackerFan4Life's picture

cow42 you're a moron

jack in jersey city's picture

cow 42 is dumber than paint

PackersRS's picture

I really don't understand responding to an opinion with an insult...

CSS's picture

It's an opinion when you post it once or twice to make your point. When you repeatedly copy and paste the comment going on a dozen or more times it's antagonizing, at the very least. Feels like an ongoing theme.

PackersRS's picture

Still not a reason to offend someone.

Evan's picture

Disagree. Actions like spamming and trolling are perfectly legitimate reasons to call someone a moron. Moron is that moron does.

cow42's picture

i've resorted to annoying sarcasm because any time i voice an opinion, not only does it get dismissed as stupid and/or nonsensical, i also get insulted with words like troll, moron, etc.

just because i'm not saying what you want to hear doesn't automatically mean that i'm wrong and/or stupid.

all i've really stated is that i think the offense is in bad shape. i think that it has been for a long time.

i've also said that i think many of the offensive players we've all assumed are "good", might be somewhat overrated... rodgers included (sacrilege).

finally - it is my view that we can not deem this defense "fixed" after seeing them perform well against 2 crappy offenses. i said this 2 days ago and got crushed... this guy writes a column on it (a quality column that i agree whole-heartedly) and gets oodles of comments agreeing with him.

i get that this is a Packer site.
i get that everyone visiting this site wants the Packers to be successful.
i get that i'm overly pessimistic.

doesn't make my opinions wrong.
doesn't make me a moron.

kiss my ass.

PackersRS's picture

My beef with you is that you put labels and throw away beliefs based on 3 games.

But on the same time doesn't form the same opinion regarding a positive aspect.

The way you voice your concerns also take away much of the credit your opinions have.

But as I've said, I'll never call you a moron without being provoked, at least not without ever seeing your opinions in a different context.

I do think you're overly pessimistic.

cow42's picture

my offensive opinion is based on Rodgers' last 6 starts... hardly a small sample size.

my defensive opinion is based on last year's entire debacle of a season. again - hardly a small sample size.

PackersRS's picture

You can't use last year's games, different rulings, different schemes, different players. Well, you can, it's just not right. Might as well use the 2009 season.

And even if you did, 6 games is a small sample size, if we're talking about projecting over a season. The Giants' 2007 first 6 games where abysmal, particularly on defense. Their 2011' wasn't much different.

BTW, one of Rodgers' last 6 games is a 5 TD, 142.7 QB rating. Against the Bears.

CSS's picture

People have explained this to you before, Cow. It's the lack of content and the repetition that get difficult to deal with. You paint with a broad brush and say something frequently 'sucks' (to paraphrase your favorite assessment term), which is fine. When asked, why?, the defense is ranked 'X' or the offense didn't get as many TD's as last year.

That's not a why. What do you see? What's different than the prior series, game, year? What are the mechanics of the 'why'?

Instead of getting any rational reason as to why item X sucks we just get more, 'because it sucks!'

Fine, lets say the offense sucks and that's your opinion regardless of sample size. What's changed from the prior year? What are you seeing (specifically) in the last 6 games that's different then the prior 25?

Rodgers footwork? Route running? Personnel match-ups? Offensive line lacking pre-snap adjustments?

Just say what. Game over game, article over article with every comment being, 'it sucks because I say it sucks' really grates on people. Read the other comments. There are plenty of other pessimists, myself included. Even in this very comment section on this very article. But they are at least bothered to say why.

cow42's picture

ok then...

rodgers sucks right now because he's holding the ball too long.

the wr's suck because they can't get separation.

finley sucks because he drops too many balls.

mccarthy sucks because he consistently calls plays directly into the teeth of the defense... his offenses are doing exactly what opponent's defenses want him to do.

the oline sucks 1. because of mccarthy's play calls, 2. because they are not talented. been being told for 3 years now how good sitton is... i don't see it.

the rb's suck because i could beat cedric benson in a race... and he's the best they've got.

the defense is questionable because... 1. the ilb's are average at best, woodson couldn't cover a 3rd down back let alone a wr. they're weak up the middle... nose, ilb, safety.

i don't think they're a playoff team because... 1. they are soft. they are rarely as physical as their opponent. on both offense and defense if they have to make a decision between going around the opposition or through them 10 time out of 10 they will choose going around. 2. their schedule is brutal... i see 6 losses by the bye (yes - they will lose to arz and stl... both more physical teams). 3. they lack depth... an injury will happen to a starter. if it happens at qb you're looking at harrell. if it happens on the ol you're looking at EDS. if happens at rb you're looking at a green/starks thing. if it happens at wr you're looking at driver. if it happens at olb you're looking at walden (not horrible, i guess). if happens at ilb you're looking at francios. if it happens at safety you're looking at md jennings. if it happens at cb you're looking at hayward (not the end of the world) but you're also gonna see more bush... yikes. 4. too much turnover in the coaching staff in 1 offseason.


Rocky70's picture

It really doesn't bother me what most people post here because this is just a social sounding board for most. What many who post here need to do more often is ignore the "social crutch' the internet has become & actually talk to real identifiable Packer fans. You just might find that many of their concerns are similar to those held by cow42.

It's just me but the lack of depth on GB's 53 is astounding. We've only lost Bishop thus far. You know we'll lose more than just one player before this year is up. The only position GB can afford to have any injuries is at WR & maybe TE. Any other position could very easily cripple the "O" or the "D". ----- This isn't being negative (as Nagler might think), this is the reality of GB's weak & inexperienced 53 man roster.------ Please, no comments about how every team is in the same boat. I doubt anyone here follows the other 31 to know much about their entire 53 man roster.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

The first 7 times you posted this, it was "almost" "kinda" "slightly" funny.

Now, just douchey. You're better than that.


CSS's picture

While I'm encouraged, the biggest issue last year was the lack of an inside push. 'That guy' that could move the quarterback out of the pocket into what's now a vastly improved and fairly talented group of OLB's.

Guess what was missing this past game against Seattle? An inside push. Wilson was moved outside of the pocket by a relentless Matthews for the most part.

Coverage looks great. Linebackers look really solid. The unit as a whole will regress as the season proceeds if they can't generate an inside rush with some consistency.

lebowski's picture

Mike Neal is on his way to save the day

PackersRS's picture

Don't know if it's sarcasm or not but his game against KC was by far the best of a Packers' Dlineman in preseason.

bigfog's picture

A little surprised you didn't talk about the rush defense. Have held Lynch and Forte/Bush in check. Think they got a bit toasted by Gore, but seemed to have bounced back. Nice when you can make a team one dimensional.

Zach Kruse's picture

I like they have responded to Week 1 against the run, even in Seattle. Lynch got 25 carries and still couldn't crack 100. Pounding a back that many times and only throwing it 21 times probably plays into the Packers hands.

Ruppert's picture

Well done, Zach.

Jerel Worthy will have a pretty big say in the performance of this defense as the year goes on. Right now he's not doing much of anything, although it's generally accepted that he has the athletic ability to generate some inside rush. If he progresses, it will go a long way toward making this defense good.

CSS's picture

He's more intuitive than I thought, doesn't bite hard on misdirection in the run or passing game, that's been a very pleasant surprise and unusual for a rookie. I don't know that they've put him in a position to generate much of a pass rush. He sure won't do it as the lone lineman in the psycho package, at least not this year.

My only concern with Worthy is the amount of snaps he's taking already in base and nickle/dime. They need to rotate the kid with Neal and Daniels so he still has legs come week 10 and beyond.

I know it sounds crazy, but the inside pass rushers on the defensive line will only be fresh come week 10 if Mike Neal can stay healthy. The guy doesn't need to be a star, he needs to threaten and stay healthy.

PackersRS's picture

Agreed. I'm very surprised he hasn't been on his back all day, particularly in the run game.

All of the rookies have been sensational, considering they're rookies. Can't wait to see what this D will look like by the end of the season.

Evan's picture

Or when they add House to the mix.

PackersRS's picture

Yes, he was the best DB during preseason other than Williams.

But there's the shoulder issue. And his best asset is the press coverage. Could have the same effect as Williams last year, so I'm not counting on House. Plus, Shields is playing out of his mind right now, so is Heyward.

Neal is completely healthy, and you can never have enough DL.

hobot's picture

Great article Zach.
People so often want to jump to extremes. Things are either crap or amazing, broken or Flawless. This is the kind of tempered, rational approach that draws me to this site. The answer is almost always somewhere in between and the controversial conclusion is normally not the correct one. This is a young but IMPROVED defense. They will almost certainly have some more bumps along the way, but are providing encouraging signs.

PacMan's picture

How about an article about pumping the brakes on the Packer offense? Everyone seems to think it's just a matter of time until they start clicking.

Ok, it would be too much to ask that Rodgers have a season like last year. But something more is going on at the moment. Can that much be attributed to Philbin? Was it so easy for teams to figure this offense out? What is the longest pass (before run) so far?

Whatever it is/was, I hope this last game finally ignites something in the Packer offense. As we have seen the last couple years, it's not the record at the end of the season that counts. It's the team with the momentum and will.

CSS's picture

There's so much nuance to a response here, nothing black and white at all.

The last few years were a track meet with how the rules were administered. It was strictly hands off the receivers outside of the legally defined chuck zone for contact. Jennings and Nelson thrived under prior conditions. Now, with a schedule that has you facing two extremely physical defenses (Seattle/San Francisco) with great safeties and one that's infinately familiar with your offense (Chicago) it's tough sledding.

Don't get me wrong, the Packers defense is able to take advantage of that same environment (and it shows).

It's also the pace/rhythm of the game. Perfect example: Week one against San Francisco you could see McCarthy wanted to run no-huddle. The replacement officials take so much time to place the ball and confer on calls that they don't allow any team to take advantage of personnel using no huddle (or fatigue a defense that likes to tee off every play).

McCarthy and Rodgers are too slow to adjust. They're not getting a personnel advantage on the field series to series or even within a series.

Rodgers needs to throw the ball away. Lost in Russell Wilson's average 10 completion day against the Packers, he threw it away under duress and left his team with reasonable down-and-distance. This one is on Rodgers. Despite his bookend tackles struggling Bob McGinn credited Rodgers with 2.5 sacks that last game, I thought it was more.

Packers need to abandoned last years mentality that you can play a complete game in 45 minutes of play and put an opponent away early. They need to approach each series like it's a 60 minute game, work the middle where few teams can match your personnel, and commit to balance in every series unless the actual officiating crew allows a tempo for no huddle, then back to the track meet.

My 2 cents.

PackersRS's picture

Yes. I think this game was the last straw, and the second half supports this notion.

Benson is there to be used. Finally the Packers have a running back that can get positive yardage when there's none. No excuse whatsoever to have 2 rushing attempts in a half.

But I've already said it, MM and Rodgers are responsible for this offense being bad. They can make it an ok offense. But for it to come back to greatness, the OL needs to pick it up considerably.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

Excellent analysis of the offense. McCarthy's offense is not true West Coast in the sense that he doesn't like to use all of the field. Every coach would love to run receivers on vertical stems on every passing opportunity but it just doesn't work. The book is really out on McCarthy and Rodgers. Play soft Cover 2 and play man-match principles underneath and make Rodgers work the ball down the field in small chunks. In Seattle, McCarthy's impatience got the best of him. He started out the game calling some shallow crosses and shallow in cutting routes but that quickly waned and Rodgers had to keep the ball hoping a receiver would open up downfield. McGinn can put those sacks on Rodgers but I was happy he took those sacks instead of forcing the ball in to coverage. He could have thrown them away but that is always a risky proposition (i.e. ball tipped, floats, penalty). The fact is McCarthy and Rodgers put themselves in poor situations due to poor play design. I, for one, appreciate McCarthy admitting he was too slow to adjust. That's the first time I've heard him admit he was wrong. That is a huge step.

packeraaron's picture

People talk about the second half in Seattle being successful because Mike ran the ball. That's part of it, but more than that, Mike got back to being multiple on offense. He simply HAS to get back to that.

cow42's picture

yeah - that super successful second half where they scored a whole 1 touchdown.

oh, how our expectations have changed.

packeraaron's picture


packeraaron's picture

You are hopeless cow.

packeraaron's picture

And I picked them to lose the game - so that shows you where my expectations were.

Chad Toporski's picture

Hopeless is an understatement.

cow42's picture

all i'm saying is that if the offense had put together a 1/2 like that last year - people would have been wondering what was wrong.

this year?

this year, they score 1 touchdown in a half and people are talking about how the offense looks to be getting back on track.

yes - our expectations for this offense have changed.
1 touchdown halves = progress, now.

packeraaron's picture

1 touchdown halves after a half featuring 8 sacks IS progress - regardless of expectations.

Chad Toporski's picture

Anyone who thinks the offense is back on track yet is delusional. But you act as though unless they play a spectacular game, then they suck and don't deserve to win.

It's not as black and white as what you perceive it to be.

cow42's picture

in my opinion it i black and white.
either the offense is bad or the offense is good.
right now the offense is bad.
has been for a while.
the personnel is not going to change.
ability levels are not going to change.

so are they all of a sudden going to figure out a scheme change that will bring the offense back? possible, i guess... but if it was gonna happen it probably would have by now.

Rocky70's picture

@ cow42

Come on. You should know by now that you will be deemed "wrong" if you don't agree with the 'house opinion'.

You also should know by now that many of those who blog & post here are also far removed from the thongs of Packer Fans who think scoring 12 points in any game is dreadful & a cause for concern.

I've said it before ----- Join a Tuesday night bowling league in Wisconsin & a person will get the 'real' pulse of the Packer Fan. You'll never find it here.

packeraaron's picture

Ah yes, the time-honored "Packers fans at Tuesday night bowling leagues are REAL Packers fans, not these dweebs on the Internet" argument.

Keep bringing the weak-sauce Rocky. Play to your strengths.

Rocky70's picture

Gotta love it when Nagler himself verifies my point. Thanks.

Chad Toporski's picture

I don't speak for Packers fans. I speak for myself.

Maybe you should, too.

2 share owner's picture

Great article Zach. Thanks for digging up those stats and facts that I am far to lazy.

Mojo's picture

The way I see it, neither the current offense or defense is where it's going to be by season end. Three games is way to small a sample size. Things evolve. I see the offense adjusting and taking more check-downs as the season progresses(like the second half of the Seattle game). Other teams will then bring their safties up and the Packers will take more shots going long. It won't be like last year, but they will be fine.

As for the D, all I can say is the small three game sample size does show some encouraging trends. The secondary at times is playing magnificently. Shields seems like a new man and McMillian has shown promise. The front seven has played better too, and even Hawk looks good at times. They should have a much better rotation on the front-line than last year.

The coaching staff has to do a better job of adjusting to the other teams adjustments to us. Overall the talent level is, IMO, significantly better than when the season ended last year. If we didn't get Seattle Screwed we'd be sitting pretty right now.

Paul Ott Carruth's picture

The aggregate statistics look good. However, as coaches, we've always taken them for what they overall snap shot that doesn't tell the whole story. Far more important things we look at are 3rd down success ratio. The Packers have been much better at that since week 1. I agree, at this point, we need to be cautious. Frankly I see improvement but not so much as a result of statistics. The most important change I've seen since week 1 is the change in philosophy by Capers. He's had his secondary play much more aggressive (i.e. more press man). He's brought more pressure. Now, he didn't bring as much against Seattle but if you review the film you'll see that Seattle ran a lot of 6 and 7 man protections and in some cases went max protect with 8. It's pretty difficult to get pressure when rushing 5 or 6 against 8 and even 5 on 7. It would have been interesting to see how the defense would have fared against San Francisco had Capers stayed true to his core philosophy. Instead, he ran passive zone coverages for most of the day and Smith gouged us by staying patient. This week will be an interesting test. While the Saints are reeling right now their offense is still potent. As long as Capers doesn't stray too far from his core philosophy of pressure defense I believe the Packer defense will be greatly improved over last year.

Edward's picture

Paul, your posts are among the best on this site.

Can you share your take on the impact of the new O.C.? I dont hear much criticism (yet) of how the offense's struggles can be blamed on Clements.

Since the Giants game (no Philbin for that one) through today, we're post-Philbin. Is this a bad trend or still too small a sample size?

And I know this isn't exactly on-topic for this article, so my apologies for that...

CSS's picture

Piggy-backing on this question for Paul (or anybody else): Was Philbin valued more as an actual X's & O's offensive coordinator, or was his real value more akin to a quality control coach that would nudge Rodgers and McCarthy by telling them they can't adhere to their predetermined game-plan and need to adjust?

PackersRS's picture

Yeah, I think that's the issue. With McCarthy not only calling the plays but being responsible for the game plan, it's impossible to gauge the OC's responsability on the O's performance without inside knowledge of what exactly Philbin did differently than Clements.

Being the voice that stops them from playing vertical routes every down might be it, but that's an assumption without much basis.

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"The Bears still suck!"
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