Christl/Baranczyk analysis: Rodgers' injury hurt Packers defense, too

Nov. 5, 2013
Without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers offense struggled, which in turn led to defensive struggles as well. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media
Without Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers offense struggled, which in turn led to defensive struggles as well. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media

The question many Green Bay Packers fans started asking the moment they started filing out of Lambeau Field Monday night was: ďWhat happened to our defense?Ē

Not to be dismissive, but the answer is a pretty simple one.

No Aaron Rodgers.

Not to sound like a broken record, either, but the defensive meltdown against the Chicago Bears offered more proof than just the obvious as to how much the Packers depend on their star quarterback.

It shouldnít be overlooked that the previous four games might have created a false impression about the Packersí defense. The four opponents it held in relative check were Detroit minus Calvin Johnson, unequivocally the best receiver in the game; Baltimore, which hasnít scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game since the opener and is last in the league with a 2.8 average per rush; and Cleveland and Minnesota, whose quarterbacks were worse than terrible.

You also knew something was amiss when the loss of Clay Matthews went virtually unnoticed.

Well, against the Bears, it was obvious how much the Packers missed Matthews when the playing field was level: Two backup quarterbacks going head to head.

Give the Bears some credit. Theyíve improved their offensive line, and Marc Trestman has created a more quarterback-friendly scheme. Plus, they have weapons. With Alshon Jeffery emerging as one of the most improved players in the game and Brandon Marshall as a teammate, they have one of the best receiving tandems in the league. Matt Forte also is one of the gameís best all-around backs.

But make no mistake, Josh McCown is nothing more than a journeyman quarterback. For evidence, go back and watch the pass he threw to Marshall in the end zone with 10:47 left in the first quarter that dropped from the sky like a wounded duck above a beaten Sam Shields. Moreover, the Bearsí defense is a shell of what it was when Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were in their prime.

Packers defense

When a team loses its star quarterback, it takes some wind out of everyoneís sails ó defensive players included. More importantly, the offense is no longer staying on the field, no longer clicking and putting points on the board. As a result, the defenders lose some of their flame, start playing on their heels and begin wearing down.

Against a Rodgers-led offense, once an opponent falls behind, especially by two scores, its focus turns to one thing: Keeping up on the scoreboard. It starts looking to throw downfield and, in turn, the Packers can adjust their defense to play accordingly.

What good is an 80-yard drive that eats valuable time when a team is down by 14 points? But two such drives spelled the difference in the Bearsí 27-20 victory. The first covered 93 yards on 12 plays at the end of the half; the other covered 80 yards on 18 plays at the end of the game.

Letís look at the final drive.

First play, Forte ran around right end for 12 yards. Up until that point, Mike Neal had done a good job of not giving up the outside shoulder. On that play, he looked like he was out of gas.

Three plays later, it was third-and-9. The tight end caught a short pass that should have been stopped after a 1-yard gain, but Casey Hayward couldnít finish. If he had made the tackle, the Bears would have had to punt from their 25-yard line.

Instead it was fourth-and-1, and Forte ran wide left for the first down. A.J. Hawk had a chance to make the tackle in the backfield, but didnít have enough left in his tank to make the stop. On the edge, Nate Palmer wasnít aggressive enough taking on the tight end.

Later, on second-and-1 at the Green Bay 41, Hayward shuffled down the line and blitzed into the backfield. But instead of aggressively going after Forte, he hesitated and the Bears picked up another first down.

The defense had chances to get off the field and didnít do it. In part, maybe thatís the difference between Hayward and Micah Hyde. Hayward tackles like heís calf wrestling; Hyde blows people up.

But the more serious problem was the Packers trailed in the second half for the first time in five games, their defense wound up playing 16 more snaps than they had averaged over that stretch and simply wore down.

It wasnít just missing Matthews, either. With no Rodgers, the Packers also missed Nick Perry.

Neal might be an undersized defensive lineman at 285 pounds, but thatís a lot of weight to carry while playing 70-some snaps at outside linebacker.

Palmer and Andy Mulumba might not have played any worse than they did in recent weeks, but without Rodgers it wasnít good enough. Mulumba appears to have some tools, but doesnít have enough experience to get much done. And Palmer isnít aggressive enough yet to be an every-down player. Too often when he attacks blocks he gets stalemated.

That doesnít happen to Matthews. When he attacks a block, he sinks his hips, drives the blocker back and then still has the athletic ability to get off and make the play. Palmer canít do that. Even on plays where he might drive the blocker back, he doesnít have enough left to make an athletic move.

With the score close, the Packers also had to respect the run for 60 minutes, and here was the snowball effect of that.

It meant playing B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett deeper into each set of downs. As a result, the pass rush suffered. And without a rush, Forte and later Michael Bush were free to sneak out of the backfield. In the end, they averaged 11.5 yards on six catches, three of which resulted in first downs.

If Matthews is in there beating the tackles on the pass rush, those passes donít happen.

Seneca Wallace

With a week of preparation, the Packers will make adjustments to help Wallace. Theyíll scout for windows that heíll be able to throw through at 5-11. And thanks to their weak schedule, theyíll have a chance in each of their next three games.

But here are the key questions: Does Wallace possess the arm strength to throw the ball outside to the numbers? And does he have a live enough arm to throw the deep ball?

Monday night, he didnít complete anything beyond linebacker depth.

Whatís more, without Randall Cobb, the Packers really donít have a wide receiver capable of catching a screen or short hitch and turning it into a 20-yard gain. And without Jermichael Finley, they really donít have a tight end who can catch a 5-yard pass in front of a bootleg or drag across the middle on a short play-action route and gain 15 after the catch.

None of that mattered with Rodgers. Now it does.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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