Is Green Bay's Defense Legitimate?
After hitting rock bottom in 2011, the Green Bay Packers defense has dramatically improved over the course of two years. It now not only passes as good enough for the Packers to win the Super Bowl, it looks like one of the best defensive units in the league. Is it for real, or can we expect another defensive downfall late this season?
Good cop: Numbers never lie, and right now, the numbers look quite impressive for the Packers defense. Remember last year when Adrian Peterson rushed for 409 combined yards against Green Bay in the regular season? When Colin Kaepernick broke the single-game rushing record for a quarterback? Well, thanks in large part to Johnny Jolly’s return, the run defense has become a brick wall, ranking fourth in yards allowed per game (83.6). For a majority of every game, the pass defense has also been a tough barrier to penetrate. Despite letting off the gas consistently during garbage time, the pass defense still ranks 21st in yards per game, and total yards allowed per game is 11th best. The only time the defense looks vulnerable is late when the game is already pretty much decided.
Bad cop: The numbers may not lie, but they can be deceiving. Just take a look at whom the Packers have played so far this year and the quarterbacks of those teams. Since throwing for 412 yards and three touchdowns on Green Bay, Kaepernick hasn’t topped 300 passing yards and has only surpassed 200 once. Robert Griffin III was clearly not 100 percent himself. Matthew Stafford looked lost with no Calvin Johnson to bail him out. And with the way Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Brandon Weeden and Christian Ponder have been playing this year, defensive coordinators are thrilled to face any one of them. That garbage time problem isn’t anything to brush over, either. Giving life to an offense you’ve been pummeling all game is the last thing you want to do, even with a 21-point fourth-quarter lead. This is the NFL. Crazy things happen all the time. If you keep letting teams stay alive, sooner or later it’s going to come back to bite you.
The verdict: I’m genuinely concerned about the lack of killer instinct late in the game. If it wasn’t for the offense’s newfound ability to drain the clock late with Eddie Lacy, this would be getting a lot more attention as a significant problem. The Packers of the past couple years wouldn’t have been able to hold on to leads with a defense as leaky late in the game as this one. As for the lack of shutting down an elite quarterback with his full arsenal, I believe it’s sort of offset by the rash of injuries the defense has endured. Go against stronger quarterbacks, the defense looks worse. Get everyone on that side of the ball healthy for once, it looks much better. This is asking a lot because it never happens, but if the defense can stay healthy, I feel very confident it will come up big in the playoffs. Otherwise, I’m nervous it will falter when it’s time to play Drew Brees in New Orleans or Russell Wilson in Seattle.