Here are two numbers that seem worth digesting.
Over the past three games, all losses, the Green Bay Packers have played from behind a total of 136 minutes, 42 seconds. In their previous four games, all wins, they played from behind a total of 7 minutes, 24 seconds.
The clock and the score arenít the only factors that dictate defensive strategy. Down-and-distance and offensive formations do as well. But one can safely conclude from the huge disparity in those numbers that the Packers are doing much more reacting than attacking on defense.
And when a defender is forced to react rather than attack it costs him at least a split second, maybe more.
The Packers got some things fixed on defense in their 27-13 loss to the New York Giants.
They forced three punts in the fourth quarter, ended a drought of three games without an interception and held the Giantsí offense to 20 points. Clay Matthews played better with a smaller cast. Tramon Williams might have tackled better than in any game in his career. And Datone Jones is starting to show flashes of first-round talent.
But without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers need their defense to win games for them. And this should have been a golden opportunity. The Giants had turned the ball over more than any other team, ranked third from the bottom in scoring and, most importantly, lacked speed at every offensive skill position.
But it was Giants end Jason Pierre-Paul, the most talented defender on the field, who made the play that settled the outcome.
A cockamamie theory was floated earlier this season that the Packers had gotten bigger on defense and, therefore, nastier, more physical and better. But the most physical and surest tackling defenses are the most explosive, not necessarily the biggest. Size helps, but it isnít nearly as important as speed, power and quickness.
The Giants won two recent Super Bowls with their best defensive linemen weighing in the 255- to 278-pound range. But they had nearly an entire line of fast-twitch athletes.
The Packers have very few of them on their defense, and when theyíre forced to react rather than attack for much of the game theyíre another step slower. That might best explain why the Packers arenít getting turnovers, arenít getting off the field and why they allowed a team like the Giants, with so little speed and no better than a serviceable offensive line, to connect on four pass plays of 25 yards or more and break an explosive run of 12.
Offenses are playing stress-free against the Packers. Thereís no pass rush. Theyíre not being forced to keep up on the scoreboard. Itís like a scrimmage for them: Run the ball a little bit, throw the ball a little bit and head to the showers feeling smug about their effort.
Letís look at the Packersí personnel.
Matthews is fast-twitch, but playing with a bad wing. B.J. Rajiís first step might be as quick as any 335-pounder in the game. Sam Shields has top-end speed, but he didnít play. Jones is an impressive athlete, but heís just starting to make a splash.
But thatís it for guys with above average speed and quickness.
Morgan Burnett is solid when he gets in position. When he gets caught out of position, he doesnít have the speed and skill to recover and make a play. Johnny Jolly isnít as much of a slug as C.J. Wilson, but he might give you two fast-twitch plays a game. Mike Daniels is more effort than explosive. Williams is in decline.
When the Packers won in 2010 Charles Woodson was still a quick-twitch guy. Matthews was another. Raji had a big year. Behind them was Nick Collins. When he came up to fill an alley in the running game, heíd almost never get juked. He had speed, power and balance.
Now, you see Packers defenders getting juked all the time. Guys like M.D. Jennings, Mike Neal ó they canít change direction and arenít quick enough to fill holes. Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk same thing.
Hawk looks lighter and quicker this year and continues playing with some power, but heís not overly explosive. If a blocker gets two hands on him, itís over.
Letís rewind the tape to show some examples.
First quarter, 8:24 on the clock. The play was wiped out by a late hold inside, but it was a glaring example of Nealís lack of any quick-twitch movement. He comes off the edge, gets washed inside and simply doesnít have the explosiveness to disengage and make a play. There was an opportunity there against a less-than-mobile quarterback to maybe get a sack or force an interception. Instead, all you saw was the plodder in Neal: A transplanted defensive lineman unable to make a play in space.
Second quarter, 6:40 to go, fourth-and-one. Brad Jones shoots the gap and is there to make a play. But 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs changes his track, and Jones isnít explosive enough to take on the lead blocker and get in front of him. Jones falls down and itís a first down.
Third quarter, 5:56 to go, second-and-12. Micah Hyde blitzes from the slot, which he does better than anybody the Packers have right now. But you see no explosiveness. That was a blitz where Woodson more often than not would force a quarterback to move or throw over the top. Heíd do something to disrupt the play. In this case, Manning doesnít have to adjust his throw or move his feet. He sees the blitz, executes and gets the Giants out of a hole on a drive that ends in a touchdown.
Take away John Kuhnís 12-yard run to get the game over, Scott Tolzienís two scrambles and the fake punt, and the Packers rushed for 26 yards on 16 carries. There was nothing there. Eddie Lacy ran 4 yards for a touchdown and it was a thing of beauty because it was the result of sheer willpower.
The Packers couldnít move 323-pound Linval Joseph inside. Heís a bull. And the Giants loaded the box. The reason you saw defensive backs knifing in there and making tackles was because there was no fear of the pass.
The Packersí offensive line is good enough to block seven in the running game. It isnít good enough to steamroll people, especially with Don Barclay out and Evan Dietrich-Smith coming off a knee injury. Marshall Newhouse is no Barclay as a run blocker and struggled again pass blocking. That said, Barclay got beat plenty, too, but Rodgers had a knack for gliding right, making the first guy miss and still throwing strikes. Tolzien doesnít have that ability, and Newhouseís whiffs get magnified.