The Lass Word: Now We Find Out if Defense Has Truly Improved

Or is top ten ranking just a mirage?

There it is for all the world to see.   You can doubt it, dismiss it, make fun of it, or just plain ignore it, but it's still there.   Take a look at this week's total defense rankings in the NFL.   Ladies and gentlemen, your Green Bay Packers have a top ten defense.

8th ranked to be exact.   9th against the pass, 11th versus the run.   Hard to believe, considering the defense in general, and coordinator Mike Pettine in particular, have been lightning rods for criticism this season.   And understandably so.   Game after game the defense has failed to close out the opposition, playing soft and yielding points and keeping the other side in the game.   The weak 4th quarters are illustrated by the fact the Packers rank no better than 14th in total points allowed.

Yet there appear to be legitimate reasons to think the defense is getting better.   Last Saturday night it was the defense, not the sputtering offense, that closed out the game against Carolina.   Green Bay has won four in a row since losing to the Colts.   In those four wins, the Pack has held it's opponents to an average of 20 points per game.   Two of them were held to just 16 points, and the other two went over the 20 mark in garbage time.   The pass rush seems to have intensified, led by Za'darius Smith, who ranks 4th in the league with 11.5 sacks.   Kenny Clark, after a slow start recovering from a groin injury, is regaining his dominating form on the D Line, and is getting help from a rejuvenated Dean Lowry, who has suddenly become a bit of a beast in the trenches.    Kingsley Keke has taken a step in his second year.   Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin are showing signs that the future is now at inside linebacker, taking snaps away from sluggish Christian Kirksey.   The secondary, particularly the safeties, are breaking on the ball, defending passes, and tackling better, although perhaps still not as consistently as you would wish.   Jaire Alexander is being lauded nationally as one of, if not the best, corners in the league.    Yep.   This defense is coming on.   Top ten.   Playoff ready.   Right?

Admit it.   Deep down inside.   In your heart of hearts....you're still just a wee bit skeptical, aren't you?   Yes, they are playing better.   Yes, they are currently top ten.   But you can't help taking into account the quality of the opposition in these last four games.   The Bears, Eagles, Lions and Panthers respectively rank 27th, 22nd, 19th and 20th in total offense.   Carolina played without Christian McCaffery, Detroit without Kenny Golladay, Philadelphia without Desean Jackson.   The Bears were without........well, they were the Bears.

So, how do we deal with these nagging doubts?   How do we know if the Green Bay defense has really turned the corner?

The answer comes Sunday night.   The Tennessee Titans roll into town.   The 10-4 Tennessee Titans.   The Derrick Henry Tennessee Titans.   No longer three yards in a cloud of dust, these Titans rank second in the NFL in total offense.  (The Packers are 4th.)   You know about Henry, the steam roller who leads the league in rushing.   You may not know that coach Mike Vrabel's team has developed a very solid passing attack to go with it.   Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 31 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions for a rating of 110.4.   Receivers Corey Davis and A.J. Brown are both approaching the 1,000 yard mark in yardage, and have combined for 15 scores.   

They will also come into Lambeau highly motivated.   They are tied with Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South, and must win to maintain their tiebreaker advantage.   

Now we find out if the Packer defense has truly gotten better.   Can they keep the powerful Henry from dominating the game?   Can they pressure Tannehill and cover Davis and Brown?   Or will they revert back to relying on the offense to outscore a surprisingly bad Tennessee defense, which ranks 27th in the league?   This is the first playoff caliber team Green Bay has faced in five weeks.   It should be a fair indication of how the Pack will compete in the post season.

 

OUTTAKES

Dear Santa,

How are you?   I am fine.   I've been real good this year, except for when I keep saying "the Bears still suck".    But Santa, in your heart, you know it's true.   I really don't need anything for Christmas this year, but I do have a wish list for my favorite football team:

•  For General Manager Brian Gutekunst:   A package of high compensatory draft picks from the NFL.

•  For Coach Matt LaFleur:   A brand new playbook full of fresh, creative stuff that nobody has ever seen before.

•  For Aaron Rodgers:    A new fireplace with an elegant mantel so that he has a proper place to put his third MVP trophy.  

•  For Davante Adams:   A pair of extra reinforced gloves to protect those valuable hands, and a place on the first team all pro squad which he deserves.

•  For Aaron Jones:   A special pair of sunglasses to add to his collection that only allows him to see green and gold when his contract expires.

•  For Za'darius Smith:   A shorter sack dance that enables him to get lined up quicker for the next play.

•  For Jordan Love:   Patience.....lots and lots of patience.

•  For Packer fans worldwide:   Peace, joy, good health, and another Lombardi Trophy to celebrate.

Thank you so much Santa.   Merry Christmas to all, and to all a loud Go Pack Go!

-----------------------------------

Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

NFL Categories: 
11 points

Comments (35)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
TarynsEyes's picture

December 24, 2020 at 03:26 pm

"Hard to believe, considering the defense in general, and coordinator Mike Pettine in particular, have been lightning rods for criticism this season. And understandably so. Game after game the defense has failed to close out the opposition, playing soft and yielding points and keeping the other side in the game. The weak 4th quarters are illustrated by the fact the Packers rank no better than 14th in total points allowed."

and

" But you can't help taking into account the quality of the opposition in these last four games. The Bears, Eagles, Lions and Panthers respectively rank 27th, 22nd, 19th and 20th in total offense. Carolina played without Christian McCaffery, Detroit without Kenny Golladay, Philadelphia without Desean Jackson. The Bears were without........well, they were the Bears."

The Packers defensive ranking is a 'mirage' or a false positive. Why? Because it's certainly the biggest issue as to winning the SB, not to dismiss the need to win to make it. How much of a mirage or false positive may be decided this week against the Titans. Perhaps the truth won't come either way this week. But what is the thing that scares the realist, is those two paragraphs above.

Yes, I await those who demand acceptance of the ranking as gospel. Save your time and fingers, I, like you, will never agree.

+ REPLY
1 points
10
9
Leatherhead's picture

December 24, 2020 at 05:20 pm

It’s a good thing none of the Packers defensive starters missed any games. Not Clark, or Kirksey, or King or Alexander.

Tennessee is averaging 31.1 ppg. I will bet a cold six pack of Pabst that they won’t get that against our defense unless they’re helped out with some turnovers. I don’t suppose that will change your mind. It’ll be something like “Tennessee had a player who was injured”.

+ REPLY
3 points
8
5
egbertsouse's picture

December 25, 2020 at 07:31 am

Yeah, and we all know that if the Titans score 60 and Henry runs for 300 yds you will come up with metrics to show that it was the fault of the Packer offense. So, if you lose you will have to drink a sixer of Pabst? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

+ REPLY
-1 points
2
3
Leatherhead's picture

December 25, 2020 at 11:23 am

The Titans will not score 60, and Henry will not get 300 It’s a strawman made of bullshit

+ REPLY
4 points
4
0
PewAuKeeFan's picture

December 24, 2020 at 06:17 pm

" ... Perhaps the truth won't come either way this week ... "

So, if Titans win, it's true. If the Packers win, it's untrue. Well, at least you are your consistent negative self. It must be so painful for you that the Packers don't suck like da Bears... or the Jets. Ya, I have heard the miserable people prefer to have their misery confirmed, not have it alleviated.

+ REPLY
0 points
6
6
Oppy's picture

December 24, 2020 at 06:58 pm

The thing is, total defense isn't just impacted by the last four games, it's impacted by the sum of all games played.

I would guess you'd find that most teams have played, during the course of the season thus far, a number of offenses ranked between 19th and 27th.

+ REPLY
7 points
8
1
MarkinMadison's picture

December 25, 2020 at 10:29 am

Bingo.

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
hawk's picture

December 25, 2020 at 10:07 am

Taryn, agree with your comments. The stats and ranking are a mirage. Until this defense can stop the run and get off the field fairly quickly there's really not much hope for a SB. Good teams understand that ball control and time of possession are the keys to stopping Rodgers. How many good teams did the Pack play so far? Maybe 3, and two of them ran the ball all over the D. That is not championship football. Sorely needed draft help on the D line was ignored in favor of a QB, a running back and TE in the first 3 rounds.....none of which has contributed anything this year and further wasting another year of Rodgers. Sad that our GM does not understand or take seriously the importance of strong defensive and offensive lines.

+ REPLY
1 points
4
3
Thegravedigger's picture

December 26, 2020 at 12:06 am

So elgton jenkins, rick wagner, bakhtiari being resigned, john runyan, arent offensive lineman? Even with all the ball control the colts used it still took 4 turnovers for them to beat gb. And one by a guy who the gm cut and then replaced with tavon austin. He took that move pretty serious, as well as signing those o linemen. Its just easier to "be real" and say " we cant win cus of blah blah" because odds according to vegas are 11-2 that you are correct. I hear you this d might not be top 10 like the numbers say. But to say this team and its high powered offense cant win a super bowl cus of this defense is just ridiculous. Offense wins championships in 2020. You saw what mahomes did to the niners and their defense in 2019. All this d has to do is get timely sacks and be a little better in the red zone. Teams will score. Its all about situational defense. Not total yards. Or even points allowed. Get that 3rd down sack or pass defensed. Thats what this defense is built to do.

+ REPLY
4 points
4
0
flackcatcher's picture

December 26, 2020 at 02:17 am

I wish people would get it though their heads how much the NFL has changed. Pettine changed this defense in 2019 because of the rule changes which gave offensives major advantages on the field. He was ahead of the curve in that respect. In general, if a defense holds an offense under four touchdowns, then that unit has had a real good day. The NFL has mandated situational football, and the Packers defense is good at it.

+ REPLY
0 points
2
2
HighPlainsDrifter's picture

December 26, 2020 at 02:26 am

It is interesting to see a covid19 denier talk about false positives.

False positives, false rankings, fake news, etc. Must be nice to live in the dreamland of conspiracy theories. Keep buying those Tucker Carlson books, he loves taking your money.

+ REPLY
0 points
3
3
ralm47's picture

December 27, 2020 at 12:42 pm

That's the dumbest reply I have ever read!

+ REPLY
1 points
1
0
Guam's picture

December 24, 2020 at 03:29 pm

You have hit the nail on the head Mr. Lass. This will be a benchmark game for the defense and we will all see whether they can run with the big dogs or not. Tennessee may have the second toughest offense in the league to defend (KC) and it will be a great measuring stick to see if we have actually improved. Go Pack Go!

+ REPLY
11 points
11
0
KenEllis's picture

December 24, 2020 at 03:42 pm

Claiming the Packers D a top 10 unit is just clickbait.

The Packers scoring D is currently 13th in the NFL.

https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/opponent-offensive-points-per-game

No SB winner since the Giants in 2011 has had a scoring D outside the top 10.

The D is what it is and what it has been ... the principal reason the Packers have been in ZERO SBs since 2010.

+ REPLY
7 points
9
2
Jaylee's picture

December 24, 2020 at 04:47 pm

Offensive/defensive rankings are mystifyingly calculated on yardage, not points scored. So the Packers are indeed officially ranked as he says. There are drawbacks to both calculations, so I certainly would understand if you didn't agree that it should be based on yardage, but it is not inaccurate or even deceptive to say.

Then again, the Chargers were once an 8-8 team with the "#1 offense" and "#1 defense" in the league by yardage.

+ REPLY
7 points
7
0
wildbill's picture

December 24, 2020 at 05:10 pm

It’s all about points. Yards aren’t on the score. Many yards are made/given up during garbage time. Turnovers carry so much more weight than yards. I know “ bend but don’t break” is tough to watch but it’s helped us win 11 games so far.

+ REPLY
6 points
6
0
Leatherhead's picture

December 24, 2020 at 05:41 pm

Points. Points matter more than yards. But being stingy with yards is good. Being good in the red zone is good. Getting takeaways is good. Overall, the Packer defense in 2020 has been a little better than average, and a little better at home.

At home, this defense is only giving up 20 ppg. Titans are scoring 31. I’d predict the Titans final score is somewhere between those two points. If our offense does what it’s being paid to do, we’ll score over 30 at home against a weak defense. I could see 35-27.

+ REPLY
7 points
7
0
Stroh's picture

December 24, 2020 at 06:27 pm

But would that score convince anyone the defense is what it's rankings suggest? Would that score say its closer to a top 10 or closer to a #20 defense.

I think the offense has helped the defense much of the season. However, alot of yards and points have also come in garbage time with the outcome decided.

In the end the rankings are what they are, but we are now seeing what had been weak links on D improving in meaningful ways at ILB and Safety.

+ REPLY
6 points
6
0
Thegreatreynoldo's picture

December 25, 2020 at 12:20 pm

It isn't a claim. By the traditional metric, GB's defense is top 10. I prefer points allowed, which would put GB 13th. GB was 18th by yards and 9th by points allowed in 2019.

Just using stats, one can state that GB's defense has regressed relatively speaking as to points allowed and improved by yards allowed.

So, is GB's defense better than last year's? IDK. The more important question to my way of thinking is whether GB's defense is getting better over the course of the season. I think it probably has been improving and I see no reason to think said improvement won't continue. It will have ups and downs in general and due to quality of opponent in particular.

I think holding TN under 30 is a good result.

+ REPLY
6 points
6
0
Stroh's picture

December 25, 2020 at 06:39 pm

I agree TGR. In the last 2 month's we've seen the Safety play improve greatly and more recently the ILB play as been improving. Therefore I really think the D overall is getting better each week. Cautiously optimistic that continues into the playoffs!

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
cpabandit's picture

December 24, 2020 at 04:41 pm

I am so concerned about the Packers having to face the Saints or if they get lucky to make it to the SB, the Chiefs defenses. Their defensive players know their jobs, know how to perform, are not afraid to tackle or hit and are fast and quick to execute. They don't run around like the Packers' Keystone Cops. Don't forget what the Niners rush did to the Packers defense last year.

+ REPLY
3 points
6
3
MITM's picture

December 25, 2020 at 08:20 am

Didnt they beat that Saints defense in New Orleans WITHOUT Davante Adams? That counts for something

+ REPLY
5 points
5
0
Qoojo's picture

December 24, 2020 at 05:37 pm

Every team in NFC is flawed. Because of that, the Packers actually have a shot at getting to the superbowl. But I can't see them beating KC or any team with balance.

Speaking of Saints, remember that run with about 6 missed tackles, ugh.

+ REPLY
7 points
7
0
PewAuKeeFan's picture

December 24, 2020 at 06:19 pm

"Speaking of Saints, remember that run with about 6 missed tackles, ugh."

Yeah... and now the Saints are one (essentially two) game behind the Packers. So yeah.

+ REPLY
2 points
2
0
Stroh's picture

December 24, 2020 at 06:31 pm

Then you don't see them defeating Tenn? KC's defense would have to be equally scared of the Packers offense. People are far more critical of the team they cheer for.

+ REPLY
5 points
5
0
Since'61's picture

December 24, 2020 at 07:57 pm

We should have some criteria for what we expect an improved defense to mean. Forget the stats and the rankings. Points matter, end of story.

For me an improved defense means winning the LOS first. That is where everything begins. Next is good, solid tackling. Third is pursuit, play with a sense of urgency and everyone rallying to the ball, preferably with mean intent. Fourth, good gap discipline.
Fifth, consistent pressure on the QB, hurry him, hit him, sack him, make him uncomfortable. Sixth, all of the above needs to be supported with tough physical play. No prisoners, no let up. Play hard for four quarters. Make stops, get off the field.

If the Packers defense can meet those criteria that would indicate improvement for me. No easy TDs. Be assignment sure. It’s too late in the season for missed assignments or blown coverages.

My concern is that the Titans need the game more than the Packers. Playing for their division title means more than playing for seeding after having won your division.

Next this is the Packers 11th consecutive game without a bye. I’m not sure when the Titans had a bye. Also, not looking to make excuses but Raven Greene would be great to have this game.

We need our offense to score and keep Henry off the field. That more than anything will help out our defense. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ‘61

+ REPLY
10 points
10
0
PhantomII's picture

December 24, 2020 at 09:12 pm

ML offense must come out hot and build a lead at least a couple scores, and be effective in latter part of the game. ST must not implode. Defense has made progress the last 3 weeks. If/ When we do get 3 and outs the offense has to score points and eat up the clock doing it. Both starting RB's are nicked up and Dillon has hardly played all season. It could get interesting. We have not had a #2 Wr step up in a while. Hopefully we get that and Rodgers just keeps moving the chains. Pettine has to have a good plan and blitz when needed to get off the field. Hope nobody gets hurt tackling the big fella.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
jeremyjjbrown's picture

December 24, 2020 at 11:29 pm

Correction...

"For Aaron Rodgers: A new fireplace with an elegant mantel so that he has a proper place to put his second Super Bowl MVP trophy."

+ REPLY
9 points
9
0
Ferrari-Driver's picture

December 25, 2020 at 01:46 am

I would certainly attribute some of the apparent success of the defense to our outstanding offense which has generally kept opposing offenses on the bench for more than half of the game.

+ REPLY
6 points
7
1
fastmoving's picture

December 25, 2020 at 08:05 am

The D is so waaaaay better than drama queens here can see. I think they just should watch some football. One game would be enough......

+ REPLY
-4 points
0
4
Oppy's picture

December 28, 2020 at 07:33 pm

Except for last week, when the offense punted 5 times in a row with a bunch of three and outs, and the D still managed to hold an NFL team to 16 points.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
GregC's picture

December 25, 2020 at 06:12 am

Love the wish list, especially the shorter sack dance for Zadarius Smith.

As others have mentioned, measuring offense or defense by yards doesn't make any sense. So this defense is really 14th, based on points allowed. It is trending in the right direction, though.

+ REPLY
6 points
6
0
Oppy's picture

December 29, 2020 at 12:52 pm

It’s 11th after the titans win.

+ REPLY
0 points
0
0
EddieLeeIvory's picture

December 25, 2020 at 08:26 am

We all know how a legit RB can carve us up like a Halloween pumpkin. We remember Dalvin Cook slicing thru us for about 4 TDs & 200 yards THIS year.

+ REPLY
3 points
3
0
MarkinMadison's picture

December 25, 2020 at 10:41 am

Remember the Falcons D that got dramatically better at the end of the season and went on to lose against the Patriots in the SB? Yeah, this defense hasn't made that dramatic of an improvement. But they have gotten better. The Titans' offense looks scary good right now, so if they can hold them to 28 points I think that would be an achievement. And you know the Titans will try to run the ball and limit Rodgers' opportunities as much as possible. This is going to be a tough, tough game Sunday night. Any sort of a win should silence doubters. Even a loss doesn't mean this team won't be in the Super Bowl - the NFC seems relatively weak this year.

Here's the thing: while Green Bay is 15th in red zone defense; the Titans are 30th. Green Bay is 10th in 3rd down defense; the Titans are last. Green Bay is going to have to play mistake-free offense to win. But if they avoid turnovers they can win.

+ REPLY
5 points
5
0

Log in to comment and more!

Not a member yet? Join free.

If you have already commented on Cheesehead TV in the past, we've created an account for you. Just verify your email, set a password and you're golden.