The Lass Word: Will Average Be Good Enough on Defense?

Pack may find it more challenging to outscore teams this year.

The Green Bay Packers offense is so good, the defense only needs to be average for the team to make a Super Bowl run.   

 

Have you heard Packer fans say that?  It’s a fairly common school of thought.  We had better hope it’s true, because, judging by statistics through the first five games, Green Bay’s defense is the very definition of average.  The team ranks somewhere near the middle of the pack in nearly all important categories. 

 

When you look at the rankings for total defense, the Packers are an impressive sixth in the league.  But those standings are based solely on total yardage given up, and that can be deceiving.  Breaking it down, Green Bay is eleventh in giving up rushing yards per game, and fifteenth in yards per carry.  They are also fifteenth in rushing touchdowns allowed and nineteenth in first downs allowed rushing. 

 

Against the pass, the Packers are tenth in yards per game.  In the most important stat, points per game, Green Bay is nineteenth, yielding 24.4 points per contest.  They are tied for 25th in sacks, tied for tenth in keeping opponents from converting on third down, and 14th on fourth downs. 

 

Those figures are not terrible, but they certainly aren’t great.  They are, well, average.  So far, they have been good enough to allow the team to reel off four wins in a row and surge to the top of the NFC North, tied for the second best record in the NFC, behind undefeated Arizona.  The question is, will that kind of defensive performance be sufficient to hold the Packers into the Super Bowl hunt as we get into December and beyond? 

 

If that’s going to happen, at least one thing has to change.  This defense has to learn to stop somebody in the red zone.  The streak is getting a bit ridiculous.  This year opponents have scored thirteen touchdowns in thirteen trips inside Green Bay’s twenty yard line.  They are the only team in the NFL that has failed to prevent a touchdown at least one time.  If you include the final games of last year, the streak increases to seventeen straight.   

 

Coach Matt LaFleur offers a simple solution.  “It really comes down to making sure everybody is doing their job” he told the media.  “I’ve got no issue with what we call down there.  We just didn’t execute.”  He has a point.  Joe Barry’s players often seem confused on plays near their own goal line.  Cincinnati’s first trip to the red zone this past Sunday is typical.   From the four yard line, running back Samaje Perine drifts out into the right flat and nobody picks him up.  Blown coverage.  Joe Burrow flips a little pass to him and it’s an easy score.  Other times, it’s a tackling issue.  On the Bengals second venture inside the twenty, running back Joe Mixon takes a handoff and easily eludes a couple of defenders to hit paydirt.  Whatever the strategy seems to be down there, it needs to be simplified and played with more aggression. 

 

Another thing that needs addressing is the disturbing trend of giving up points at the end of the first half.  In three of the team’s five games, opponents have rallied for points in the final seconds of the second quarter.  In week two, the Lions went 35 yards in seven plays to kick a field goal with three seconds remaining to seize momentum and take a 17-14 lead into the locker room.  In week four the 49ers went 32 yards in eight plays, giving up a touchdown run to Trey Lance in the final minute.  The score gave the Niners life after Green Bay had dominated the first half.  In week five the defense yielded a 70 yard touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase with 36 seconds left on the clock.  A play that, once again, turned the momentum around. 

 

To be fair, let’s not dwell only on the negative.  It’s not all bad for the defense.  They have managed to be plus three in turnover ratio.  The defensive line has put two solid games in a row together.  Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell is playing like an All Pro.  The addition of Jaylon Smith should be an upgrade when he gets up and running.  There is hope that Za’darius Smith and Jaire Alexander can return at some point.   There is the perception that the unit is gradually getting better, as long as they can keep the opponent out of the red zone of course.  LaFleur called the Cincinnati game “the best performance of the year” for the defense. 

 

So you take the good and the bad and put them together and what do you wind up with?  Average.  Will that be good enough?  One big factor to consider is that, so far at least, this is not the slick, dominant, top-rated Packer offense of 2020.   In fact, Green Bay currently ranks 22nd in total offense, and 13th in points scored.  Depending on that unit to win games by outscoring the remaining teams on their schedule is a perilous proposition.  Take the game coming up against the Bears.  Chicago’s defense is playing very well.  It may take the Packers awhile to put some points on the board.  Can the defense hold us in the game until that happens? 

 

For that to take place, average may not be good enough. 

 

 

 

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

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Comments (39)

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jh9's picture

October 16, 2021 at 08:08 pm

IMO, the Packers will fail, once again, to make it to the Super Bowl if they don’t upgrade the defensive line. They have no one on the active roster or practice squad with the ability to provide substantial improvement. The only way I see out of this situation is to make a trade.

The trade deadline is approaching, and I know everyone says that isn’t the Packers way. Well, if this is Aaron Rodgers’ “Last Dance,” I would argue this year is a special circumstance. For those who would say the Packers can’t afford a better player, I have four suggestions of defensive linemen on teams who aren’t going anywhere and might be available for a low to medium draft pick. All four have been productive this year, and are affordable.

Next to each player’s name is their current PFF score and average yearly salary.

Tyler Lancaster 51.7 - $1,250,000
Dean Lowry 57 - $6,775,000
Kingsley Keke 59.6 - $708,316
(For comparison) Kenny Clark 78 - $17,500,000

WFT - Tim Settle 73.6 - $628,000
Jets - Folorunso Fatukasi 77.3 - $658,500
Jaguars - Jay Tufele 72.4 - $1,076,000
Steelers - Chris Wormley 78.1 - $2,250,000 - (Pittsburgh traded a 5th round pick to Baltimore for Wormley.)

I’m sure there are many other players, but are the Packers truly all-in this season?

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NJ-RICK's picture

October 14, 2021 at 03:34 pm

I couldn't have said it any better myself.... Gute needs to search from those teams who are willing to trade defensive players now to alleviate salary cap issues next season. If this is Aaron Rodgers last season with the Pack then why has Gute not seen what everyone else sees, the Packers defense lacks prowess. Do you really think Devante Adams will be back next season if AR goes...? Its all or nothing this season Gute do your job..!!!!!!

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splitpea1's picture

October 14, 2021 at 03:47 pm

I wanted them to draft Tufele, and they could have had him....I don't know about the PFF score, but he's only played in one game for 13 snaps on defense. Probably neither party is interested in making a trade, anyway. At least Slaton has shown promise (and credited with 2 half sacks) and given us some better depth here. More would never hurt, but I think we're largely going to be hanging this season with what we've got.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 14, 2021 at 07:56 pm

But, but, but "we like to over pay our guys"....

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NitschkeFromTheGrave's picture

October 14, 2021 at 03:45 pm

"Can a team win the superbowl with an average defense?

Do you believe in the Toothfairy?

Can we stop the Rainbows and Butterflies thinking? The D is getting better but their not there, where they need to be. Desperately need a talent infusion on the line. Without it I'm afraid they will make it to the playoffs, just not very deep with what they have.

And saying that pains me but that is the reality

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Gee's picture

October 14, 2021 at 04:39 pm

Yep, man its if we haven't watch the playoff for the last 30 years. As much I think the offence can carry the team, but man there is at least 1 game in every playoff run where the offence just isn't there. That's the game where you need to win UGLY and I just don't see it right now. Rec for toothfairy and rainbows, laughed hard so thank you

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Packers1985's picture

October 14, 2021 at 08:03 pm

This has been my point all along. Even the Goat tom brady get's a breather from his defense once in a while. The Problem with Packers is that if the offense stutters in the big games the defense falls apart too.

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greengold's picture

October 14, 2021 at 05:11 pm

Agree, Nitschke.

The loss of Jaire hurts immensely, as does very limited production from Lowry and Lancaster, despite a couple of flashes. We're grooming a rookie, albeit, 1st Round pick in Eric Stokes, and the other side is anybody's guess for real production.

What gives me hope is signing Jaylon Smith. He's a very good ILB, and I think he and Campbell will make our best pairing there in decades.

TJ Slaton making a name for himself, if he can buy some more reps, would certainly help, as would a good trade for a NT with some experience. DL has been neglected, for too long.

Buffalo loaded their DL last draft, and it has made a difference.

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CoachDino's picture

October 15, 2021 at 03:54 am

KC just did it in 2019 with the 25th and returned to the SB in 2020 with the 21st. 2019 TB was 5th (Packers were 8th) Philly and NE were both Top 5 defenses.

So trending away from defense but have to admit still important unless you have an MVP QB. (Mahomes)

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TXCHEESE's picture

October 14, 2021 at 04:36 pm

The first game of the season has skewed the numbers a bit, so you can't look at them and say that's a good barometer of how the team is currently playing. I know they all count, but that was 5 weeks ago, with a new coordinator. Watching the current DL performance, they seem to be playing with more aggression. I think the SF game helped them convince themselves good things will happen if they get after it each and every play.

I'm hoping the starting OL returns soon, and the offense can return to form. If GB can play from ahead, the defense is good enough to handle a one dimensional offense.

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TarynsEyes's picture

October 14, 2021 at 05:30 pm

The short answer is NO, and the history since 2011 opens the wound of having an average-at-best defense. Not to dismiss or ignore the issues that a shrinking-violet QB subjects the defense. NFCCG where Rodgers got 3-points from three INTs in a row.

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jlc1's picture

October 15, 2021 at 10:28 am

I would have thought you would add the obvious at the end there - that a very above average D stopped a good offense. But a slam at rodgers may be more gratifying than making your point.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 15, 2021 at 12:07 pm

What he/she wrote regarding Packers Diva is truth. Diva need D to win the game (like BJ Raji 2010!). Otherwise no chance...

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PhantomII's picture

October 15, 2021 at 03:13 pm

3 INT and 3 points to show for it is P*** Poor no matter how you slice it. 6 points would be unforgivable. So there is where we differ. I think 10 is regrettable but I could accept that over what we got.

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MarkinMadison's picture

October 14, 2021 at 06:09 pm

This offense and this defense have to get better or forget about the Super Bowl. If Alexander gets healthy (a big IF) then I think this is as good of a secondary as any team has in the NFL. Gary + P Smith + Z? That's a great set of pass rushers. And the way Clarke is playing the inside? This is a decent defense that could be a very good defense by January. Top-10 whatever the stats say. Could they use more d-line help? Definitely, But they went out and got the best ILB they have had in years this off-season, and they just added another. No all in? They're $35M+ in the red for next year. I don't get that take. At all.

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PhantomII's picture

October 15, 2021 at 02:56 pm

Gute needs to burn his "holy grail" draft picks to show me he is all in......all in. If he uses what he covets the most.
We could use an above average Safety to free up Savage. With Smith moving into ILB position.....we would be shoring up our secondary until JA can heal up some. I don't think "Z" will be back this year considering he needs to heal up to play elsewhere next season if he's smart. We could use another OLB, DL or CB. DL and S are the cheaper move unless something falls to us or Gute drops a #1-2 pick for a very good player ready for FA for a Championship. We will see. History says no with our GM.

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CoachDino's picture

October 16, 2021 at 07:24 pm

theres so much more to it. do they have the cap space. r we talking about a 1 year rental or taking on a contract, both arent options. just plain fantasy football as no one worth their salt gives up #1 picks for a rental, and who is not being resigned if its multi year? ya maybe a team will trade a complete stud on a cheap multi year contract. if ar doesnt get back to elite and ja and others r healthy its not even going to matter.

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PhantomII's picture

October 16, 2021 at 07:59 pm

Pretty obvious I was talking about a 1 year player for a Championship run. Our #1 pick this late is basically a top round 2 pick and cannot be looked at as anything else. Once you are past pick #25, it is fairly bleak. I was thinking more a #2 pick which is also late (hopefully) but still better than the #3 return most teams would get from said player who walks. Main thing is Gute does not do any of this......and that could be the difference, definitely about him and possibly a Championship. Which was my main point. We could have won it last year but for poor job finding a serviceable CB.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 14, 2021 at 06:13 pm

I think we can. The red zone stuff is disappointing, but in the 37 regular season games we’ve played under LaFleur, we’ve held 28 of our opponents to the league average of 24, or less. That’s about 75% of our games.

We are 28-0 in those games.

You know, if we hadn’t gone 0-6 in goal to go, we’d have been in the Super Bowl with this defense. We added Campbell and Stokes. It’s held three opponents to 22 or less. I think. that the narratives on the defense don’t line up with all the facts. It’s like people will focus on one stat, or play, or game, and kind of not see the entire picture.

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Starrbrite's picture

October 14, 2021 at 08:08 pm

The empathetic answer is NO, you can’t win a SB with an average defense. The real question is, are the Packers an average defense?
Leatherhead makes a very interesting if not compelling argument that our defense is just fine. We did intercept the “Golden Calf” Tom Brady 3x’s in the NFC championship.. should have been four, had Redmond not have have canoe paddles for hands.
The difference however is, a better defense kept us from scoring in the red zone—-i.e., a better than average defense is required to win a SB

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Leatherhead's picture

October 14, 2021 at 09:01 pm

I understand your skepticism, and it is early.

Looking ahead, our next two opponents don’t exactly look like offensive powerhouses, so our numbers could look pretty good even with Alexander out.

Then we’ve got a HUGE test with back to back road games at KC and AZ.. Realistically, these teams routinely go over 30 at home and I’m expecting that.

At that point, we’ll be 9 games into the season. After that, it’s more manageable.

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GP1's picture

October 14, 2021 at 11:17 pm

Defence is improving and are better this year than last.
Offence is the concern as you stated "a better defence kept us from scoring in the Red zone". That problem has only gotten worse this year and 12 is so predictable that some of the commentators are happily predicting what he will do in advance and they are correct.
12 supposedly [I didn't hear it just read about and heard others talking about it] stated that he hasn't got time to teach a new kid how to get up to speed. He hasn't got time not to.
We live in hope.

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LayingTheLawe's picture

October 14, 2021 at 09:15 pm

I think the question is backward. Is the Packer offense good enough to score in the big moments to come in the season? So far they are good but not great and way too dependent on one player to expect this to work in January.

On defense, they are implementing a new scheme and should continue to grow in the games ahead. The early returns are decent. They were a missed batted ball away from maybe holding the Bengals to 15 points. So much would depend on players that could be added to this mix in Jaire, Z, the third Smith, Douglas and Dunbar. If this defense has 5 different starters in it come January it may look different

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Leatherhead's picture

October 14, 2021 at 09:36 pm

I think that’s the better question.

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JohnnyLogan's picture

October 15, 2021 at 09:34 am

If Gute doesn't bring in a #2 WR and a competent DL then he's derelict again. Adams is tearing it up, but come playoff time Rodgers will have to look for someone else to help move the ball in the air. Someone to demand attention. That person isn't on the roster right now.

Rumors are floating that Brandon Cooks is available. His salary is only about $2 million. He'll cost draft picks. Last year Tampa Bay gifted Brady with Antonio Brown and Gronk when they already had Mike Evans and Godwin, two #1 receivers. Packers could have had Brown, he cost almost nothing. We passed. He's been terrific.

Maybe that's another reason Rodgers wanted out. He was reminded of the Packers passing on his friend Marshawn Lynch and Randy Moss. Lynch wanted to play with Rodgers and Moss with Favre. They wouldn't have cost much. Both won SBs with the teams that did take them.

Brady gets the offensive weapons he needs plus a competent defense while Rodgers is limited to playing catch with Adams.

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Caden819's picture

October 15, 2021 at 11:32 am

Who did Randy Moss win a SB with?

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JohnnyLogan's picture

October 16, 2021 at 11:18 am

Sorry, he only went to the SB in 2007 with the Patriots but they lost. You are correct. He did catch 23 passes from Brady that year and they did win 18 straight games before losing.

My point is still that it would have been nice having him on the Packers but Thompson thought a draft pick or two was too expensive for the best receiver in football.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 15, 2021 at 12:16 pm

It is not who you will sign. The question is to whome Diva believe. We learned to whome: Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (I would add ESB, as this is obviously only reason why he is still Packers). They need MVS not to score, but to strech the opposing D. So do not expect many passes to MVS when he come back. Diva should try to solve his own problem first before he is pointing finger in any other direction. He is not throwing ball properly, he is again throwing the ball from back leg. So, whoever you'll bring you'll spend money you do not have in vain.

That is the primiry Packers problem... And as stated by some other fans here, KC never ever had D in top 15, but they still won the SB.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 15, 2021 at 08:28 pm

Truth Bee told...keep bringing the Heat!

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Crankbait's picture

October 14, 2021 at 09:38 pm

Same old shit defense, different year.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 15, 2021 at 06:30 pm

You wouldn’t recognize a decent defense if it sat on your face.

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CoachDino's picture

October 15, 2021 at 01:43 am

"Average at best" better be good enough as that is the strategy that the Packers have taken. We all know now that offense is what wins in the nfl. Just look at teams records according to PFF offensive and Defensive grades. The top 10 offensenses rule the playoff and division leads with a combined 35-15 W-L record (70%) The top[ 10 defenses have a few playoff teams in there but hold a 30-25 (tie for 10th so 11 teams) 55% win rate. Thats a huge difference.

The Packers roster designates 50% of its cap to the offense (even more if you look at avg salaries over the contract) while only 39% to defense (11% is dead cap and STs) Rodgers and DA are 24% of the total team. It would be MUCH higher if you calculated in the 2022 contracts and AR 55M dead cap figure he currently holds as an overall cap cost for his services this year if he's not with the team next year. So AR and DA had better generate a very high level of output and have last year and DA has this year.

So considering the NFL offense win championships trend and the follow the money fact of life it becomes obvious that the plan all along for the Packers has been have a decent defense but an elite offense. YTD and last year the defense did its job and until the NFCCG and the slow start this year the offense has done its. They have combined for a 4-1 record. The Packers have shown that even with all the injuries and sub par offensive play they can still win at the regular season level. I would imagine they still can beat 90% of the teams. Now if they plan to win in the Playoffs against the very best they will need to have the Offense play at its best. Now I would contend that like KC in the SB w/o your LT and playing a banged up RT and BU RG its tough to do so. Then, AR and DA didn't have their best games and come up big and the biggest moments, which didn't help. The defense, less KK worst play possible, played over expectations with multiple turnovers, big stops and 3 and outs.

Nothings changed for 2021 - the formula is the same. If AR gets his game back to a MVP or even top 5 QB status (currently 21st or 22nd) and MLF and AR can get back to the run first, take what they give you offensive play calling and formations I see a team if healthy (even w/o Z) that is good enough to win the SB.

Now with your 2 starting CBs and no.1 pass rusher out its going to be very hard to even be average. The offense needs to help by controlling the TOP and forcing the opponents to play from behind.

Sure signing a tier 1 IDL would help but in reality it was never financially feasible, Keke was trending up until hurt last year and had a slow start coming off an ankle injury this year but has avg a PFF grade of 78 the last 2 games which ties him for 11th with kenny C. Though I'm not completely sold on KK its not like they had no one. Not to mention how often they even play 3 IDL compared to just 2.

So ya the defense is a concern, I get it but in reality its that way at the benefit of the offense and paying monster contracts to Bakh, AR and good contracts to DA, Turner and AJ. Would anyone give up one of those guys to acquire an IDL?

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Leatherhead's picture

October 16, 2021 at 02:38 pm

Coach D, spot on. I’ve said the same thing a bunch of times in a bunch of ways, but it still hasn’t soaked in with some people.

😎 we are designed and built to win with offense.
😎. In the playoffs, the offensive stars have to win that day. Big plays, first downs, points. They can’t have multiple turnovers.
😎. Everybody wants good defense, but some people have unrealistic expectations, IMO. I think if you hold a team below their average, that’s good defense. We routinely hold teams under their average…..unless we gift them with multiple turnovers.

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LambeauPlain's picture

October 15, 2021 at 11:05 am

I was not a big fan of hiring Barry to replace Pettine. Had Matt been successful recruiting Jim Leonhard I think the Packers D would be developing into a top NFL unit.

Barry has done OK between the 20's but the RZ D is horrible. And wouldn't you know it...Pettine's Ds were super soft between the 20's but they were tough in the Red Zone and goal line. SMH.

What I notice is Barry plays the same scheme between the 20's and in the RZ with far less territory to defend....rush 4, maybe 5 and play zone. Hopefully Matt and Barry can fix the RZ ineptitude because it will not matter how "average" your D is overall with RZ so poor.

The D should be much better with Kenny, Gary, Preston, Campbell, Barnes, soon Jaylon Smith, Stokes, Amos, Savage and hopefully Alexander the Great before too long. That's 10 pretty good D players. Sadly I think Z is done playing for the Packers.

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PAPackerbacker's picture

October 15, 2021 at 11:51 am

An average defense may defeat a good team and get to the playoffs but it takes more than average play to reach the Super Bowl. Defense wins championships.

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CoachDino's picture

October 16, 2021 at 10:00 am

Not true if you look at the last 2 years with KC but I went back and looked over the last 5 and other than KC the SB winners had a top 5 PFF defense. SO while I'm a big offense is the key, which it is, it doesn't mean the defense can just be ok if you go back more than just 2 years.

Here's why I'm probably a bit bias. All I ever hear about as a Packer fan is how bad the D is and how they can't win with it. Then I watch the games last year and that doesn't ring true. Then in the NFCCG IMO if Bakh is Healthy the Packers win and go to the SB and most likely win that as well as KC had the same issue with OL injuries.

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rstain99's picture

October 15, 2021 at 12:41 pm

need to be a top ten defense just ask Tom Brady only once in his 7 wins of SB has his defense been ranked lower that 10. simple play pretty good defense don't turn it over throw in a couple of stops on defense make them punt 4 times in game and you will be successful

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PatrickGB's picture

October 15, 2021 at 01:29 pm

While I love a good run game, if the RB only gets short yardage, then the offense is behind the sticks and #12 goes all hero ball. If he makes it, great, if not, then the defense has to take the field. My theory is that short passes (True WCO) sets up the run game which, in turn, sets up the long ball. My complaint is that it’s the offense that is putting the defense in a difficult position. Sure, getting Z and Alexander back will help but in the meantime I prefer to have the offense make long drives in order to position the defense for success.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 15, 2021 at 08:45 pm

Tell Hackett to call his old man for advice.

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