Packers coaches looking to fix safety problem of leaky unit
By Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – Rolling along at 4-0, tied for the best record in the National Football League, the Green Bay Packers wouldn’t seem to have any worries.
They haven’t lost a game since Dec. 12 and are outscoring their opponents, 148-97, through the first quarter of this season.
Still, there is a measure of concern outside the building that the Packers aren’t playing defense the way they did a year ago and that at some point the offense isn’t going to be able to bail them out.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers isn’t blind to the numbers – 28th in total defense, 18th in points allowed and 31st in passing yards allowed – and won’t deny this isn’t the way he expects his unit to look come December.
But he doesn’t share outsiders’ opinion that the pass rush is nonexistent and he isn’t blitzing enough to create pressure.
Rather, he points to failures elsewhere, most notably the deep secondary, that showed up again in the Packers’ 49-23 victory over Denver on Sunday.
“To me, that’s the biggest area we have to improve in,” Capers said. “You’ll hear me say this all year: If you want to keep people out of your end zone, you have to keep them from getting yardage in big chunks.”
Capers didn’t specifically single out safety Morgan Burnett, but he didn’t have to because Burnett was clearly responsible for two of the biggest plays in the game and another big play that was wiped out by penalty. Of the two plays that did count, one led to a touchdown and the other was a touchdown.
The Packers knew they’d have to take some lumps with Burnett replacing injured Nick Collins as the deep guy, but they also don’t expect him to bite on a flea-flicker where his responsibility is to stay deeper than the deepest receiver.
“They had three (big) pass plays that all ended up in scoring drives, touchdowns,” Capers said. “That’s the way it is. You can trace those big plays and normally they end up with points on the board. We have to do a better job.”
If Burnett stops both plays, the Packers would have given up 307 passing yards instead of 384.
Plenty of people will argue that Burnett might not have had to make those plays if the pass rush had been better, but the Broncos created a wall of protection around quarterback Kyle Orton and let him play-fake the defense to death.
None of that would have happened if the run defense had been better, Capers said. Plus, he could have been more aggressive with his blitzes if running back Willis McGahee wouldn’t have busted out a 28-yard run in the first quarter.
“We didn’t play the run quite as well yesterday as we have the first three games, but they’re a pretty good running team and when you get into that type of game if they can mix in the play-action pass and run, they keep you off-balance a little more,” Capers said. “They make you a little bit more cautious at times about calling blitzes and pass pressures because you don’t want those runs to come out of there for 30 or 40 yards.
“You are more vulnerable with the more people you’re bringing.”
Statistically, the Packers are behind the 2010 team in sacks after four games (16 to 11) and opponent quarterback rating (71.0 to 88.6), but one very important area in which they are ahead is turnovers.
Last year, they had seven take-aways (five interceptions and two fumble recoveries) after four games; this year, they have 11 take-aways (eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries). They are hemorrhaging yards to the tune of 335.8 per game – second worst in the NFL to New England’s 368.8 – but the turnovers have helped them stay in the middle of the pack in points allowed.
Linebacker Desmond Bishop’s forced fumble illustrated how the Packers are living these days. He got beat down the field by tight end Daniel Fells for a 22-yard gain to the Packers 4-yard line but stripped Fells of the ball and caused a turnover.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” Bishop said. “Even our offense, which had a phenomenal game, left some plays out on the field. The defense, we left a lot of plays out on the field. We have a lot of growing to do still.”
Capers pointed out that in the fourth game last year, the Packers gave up 431 yards to Detroit at Lambeau Field. They then allowed more than 350 in each of the four games after that before settling down and playing a tougher brand of defense.
“That’s the challenge, not where you are but hopefully where you’re heading,” Capers said. “I am encouraged where we can go if we can keep people healthy and keep the same lineup out there and get a little continuity going.”
As for the pass rush, Capers seemed satisfied with what he was getting out of linebacker Clay Matthews and his blitz packages, even though Orton was brought down only once in 35 times he dropped back to pass.
The defense is averaging a sack every 15 pass attempts compared with one every 11 for 16 games last year, so there is a drop-off. Capers said Orton’s experience as well as the Broncos’ running game caused him to back off on blitzing and rely more on his front four.
That hadn’t been the case the first three games when the linemen were mostly focused on stopping the run.
Asked how the defense can provide more pressure, Bishop said: “I guess blitz. Blitz a little bit.”
“We can do better,” he added. “I think we will get better. We have to make a conscious effort to do better.”
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