If the Green Bay Packers are to stay afloat during the multi-game loss of injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers and have a shot at the playoffs, it will be with a dominating defense.
Anything short of that will look a lot like Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Not only did Green Bay’s secondary again fail to intercept a pass — it has only two this season — but it also gave up three long pass plays for touchdowns and allowed Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles to compile a 149.3 passer rating.
The Eagles’ no-huddle, hurry-up offense has been up and down this season: it scored 10 total points in two straight losses before putting up 49 on the Oakland Raiders last week.
On Sunday at Lambeau Field, it was up: 204 rushing yards, 10 yards per pass attempt and 415 total yards. And the Packers’ defense was down.
“It’s all frustrating when you give up that much yardage and that many points,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “You felt like we had a decent hang of it in the first half, we kind of got used to the tempo and what they were trying to do. And they made some great adjustments and made a lot of plays in the second half.
“We didn’t stand up as a defense, didn’t get off the field when we needed to.”
Three touchdown passes of 32 yards or more each had a unique breakdown by Green Bay’s defense.
In the first quarter, the Eagles took over at their 43-yard line following a missed field goal by Mason Crosby. On second-and-8, Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson got behind Packers cornerback Tramon Williams. Foles’ pass was up for grabs as Williams recovered enough to arrive at the same time as teammate Morgan Burnett. But the Packers got in each other’s way as the ball was tipped up and into Jackson’s hands for a 55-yard touchdown.
“Certain plays, it happens in the league,” Williams said. “Two guys competing for the ball, me and Morgan, and it happens. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”
Still, with all that had gone wrong for the Packers in the first half, they trailed only 10-3 at halftime. They had held the Eagles to a mere 164 first-half yards and would receive the second-half kickoff.
But Green Bay’s opening drive of the second half stalled at the 39, and it was forced to punt. Starting from its 16, Philadelphia needed only three plays to put the Packers back in scramble mode.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy gashed the Packers for 9 and 30 yards on the first two plays, then Foles went deep over the middle for receiver Riley Cooper, who had beaten cornerback Davon House to the post. Safety M.D. Jennings couldn’t locate the ball and Cooper dived to haul in the underthrown pass near the goal line and rolled in for a 45-yard touchdown catch.
The third long touchdown came near the end of the third quarter, when Burnett in zone coverage was fooled by a double move by Cooper and stumbled. The 32-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cooper put Philadelphia up 27-10.
“He ran a great route,” Burnett said of Cooper. “He sold his double move and I bit on the first move and then he sold his route. It was a good throw and catch and he made his play.”
But what really put the game out of reach for the Packers was a near duplication of the Chicago Bears’ game-killing drive last Monday night. With 9 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game, the Eagles took over at their 8-yard line. It was time for Green Bay’s defense to get the ball back in its offense’s hands.
It didn’t happen.
Philadelphia closed out the game, chewing up all 9:32 with a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended in the victory formation.
Six days earlier, the Packers’ defense had allowed the Bears to essentially close out their 27-20 victory with an 18-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:58.
“The performance today, defensively, we weren’t quite good enough,” McCarthy said, “as far as stopping the run, the big plays.”
McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, entered Lambeau Field averaging only 49 yards and 3.3 yards per carry over his three previous games. The Packers couldn’t stop him Sunday. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound back rushed for 155 yards on 25 carries (6.2-yard average).
Not even the return of injured starting linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry could provide a spark. Matthews was largely ineffective, playing with a club over a broken thumb and getting called for a roughing the passer penalty, and Perry was limited after reinjuring his foot.
Now, after two straight home losses, it’s back on the road to face a New York Giants team that has won three in a row.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on and improve,” Burnett said. “I personally need to improve, and I’m pretty sure everyone in this locker room feels the same way.
“We didn’t get the win, and that’s the ultimate goal for us. We lost, so now we’ve got to go back to the drawing board, find out what we can clean up and learn from our mistakes.”
— email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.