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Will the Green Bay Packers defense peak late again this season?

Oct. 3, 2011
 

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Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) celebrates his interception with Charles Woodson (21) during the fourth quarter of the Green Bay Packers-Denver Broncos game Sunday at Lambeau Field. / File/Gannett Wisconsin Media

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Over the first four weeks of the season, opposing defenses have looked almost helpless in their efforts to stop the Green Bay Packers. Then again, the Packers have looked somewhat defenseless themselves at times.

Or at least their defense hasnít looked as stifling as it did down the stretch of last season. Although their victory Sunday was a cakewalk, the Packers allowed Denver to gain a season-high 384 yards, and they sit at 28th in the league in yards allowed.

So is that cause for concern?

Go back to last year and the Packers allowed 320 yards or more in six of their first eight games, then gave up that many only once in the last eight. Thatís the goal in the NFL: Peak late.

Now back to this year. The Packers rank second-to-last against the pass, but theyíre tied for first in interceptions and tied for eighth in sacks.

With the Packersí offense scoring almost at will, opposing offenses have to pull out all stops to try and keep pace. They get down, and they have no other option than to go vertical. So theyíre taking more shots down field, which means those numbers might be a little bit inflated.

But itís also apparent the Packers arenít getting a consistent pass rush, and theyíre allowing too many big plays.

Last year, they blitzed on 40 percent of pass plays, according to STATS, a sports data company. After the first three games this year, they were at 37 percent. On second- and third-and-long plays, theyíre down 6 percentage points.

When teams are keeping six and seven in to pass block and the Packers are rushing four, two guys are getting double-teamed, usually Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. And the Broncos, for one, seemed to run some formations that also forced Matthews into coverage, at times.

Here, too, with the Packers jumping out to 14-point leads by early in the second quarter in three of their games, maybe defensive coordinator Dom Capers is playing it a little closer to the vest to avoid giving up cheap scores to offenses that donít have the firepower to keep pace. In other words, heís coaching against the scoreboard, too.

But the biggest difference might be that the Packers have played without one of their key starters in the secondary in three of four games: Tramon Williams in Week No. 2 and Nick Collins the past two games. And thatís an area where injuries almost always take a toll and often force defensive coordinators to play more cautious.

Charles Woodson, for example, has been playing a more conventional role than he did down the stretch last year, including as a true corner in their base defense against the Broncos. And while he continues to make big plays in coverage, he also has become increasingly vulnerable as a one-on-one defender.

Then thereís Morgan Burnett. As aggressively as heís playing, heís going to get fooled. He has played in only eight pro games. On the flea flicker, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno made a terrific fake, and Burnett was running up to fill.

Sam Shields made a great interception on a play where he was beat, and thatís his strength. But he, too, bites on fakes and seems to have a tendency to turn his hips the wrong way or turn them late.

And the loss of Collins canít be minimized. Itís a huge drop-off to Charlie Peprah. Collins could cover and he might have been the Packersí best tackler. That 28-yard run by Willis McGahee might have been a 5- or 6-yard run with Collins on the field. Peprah came into the box and couldnít get off the block of the tight end in time.

That all said, the Packers are getting interceptions, and thatís what you get when you play coverage.

Randall Cobb

What a luxury of riches. Cobb is averaging 21.1 yards per catch, and the Packers donít even feel the need to get him on the field more. Heís so explosive. On that 61-yarder, he caught it and was gone. Apparently, the Packers have a hierarchy at wide receiver, and thatís how theyíre going to dole out playing time.

Marshall Newhouse

Kind of the classic deal. He gets thrown into the game last week and didnít have time to think. His athletic ability and skills kind of took over. Now, itís the second game and he had all week to think about playing against a stud pass rusher in Von Miller. So Newhouse was kind of biting on the bit, got his weight over his toes and couldnít recover against the countermove.

The good thing for Newhouse is he wonít be playing against someone the caliber of Miller every week. The Broncos are short on talent, but might have the best set of outside pass rushers the Packers will face all year. On the other side, Elvis Dumervil was driving back Chad Clifton with a power move but would run right past Aaron Rodgers. Dumervil is 5-foot-11 and maybe that explains his lack of vision on those plays. He should have had two or three sacks.

ó Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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