Packers defenders chase Lions running back Joique Bell (35) in the fourth quarter Thursday at Ford Field in Detroit. Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media
DETROIT — In the aftermath of the Green Bay Packers’ futile defensive performance Thursday, players and coaches talked about missed tackles, blown assignments and failed execution of the game plan.
But defensive end Mike Daniels said the Packers’ problems go much deeper than that.
“We need to get tougher,” the 300-pound second-year player said. “We need to choke people, punch them in their throat. I mean, that guy got a helmet-to-helmet on us, you know what, but he was trying to send a message.
“Every now and then, you’ve got to do that. I’m not condoning illegal hits, but we’ve got to punch somebody in their throat for once.”
Daniels was referencing an unnecessary roughness penalty on Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy, whose head-first tackle of Green Bay’s Ryan Taylor knocked the tight end out of the game.
But the beatdown went beyond that.
The Packers were punched all over the field in their 40-10 loss Thursday. They couldn’t stop the Lions’ offense, which racked up 561 total yards, held the ball for more than two-thirds of the game and nearly produced two 100-yard rushers.
“They just played a better game than us,” Daniels said. “But, like I said, we need to get more violent. I think we’ve lost some of that violence. Somewhere down the line, we’ve just got to get it done.”
As recently as four weeks ago, the Packers ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing defense. On Thursday, Reggie Bush ran 20 times for 117 yards, and Joique Bell 19 times for 94 yards. Both scored touchdowns.
“Every game, obviously, there’s unique things here and there that have been going wrong for us as a defense, but stopping the run is the first thing,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said after Detroit ran for 241 yards. “We talk about that all the time. You stop the run and you need to run to win. And defensively, we haven’t been stopping the ball, and that’s a big reason why we’re letting the offense down and can’t seem to get off the field.”
The Packers have allowed more than 200 rushing yards in three of their past four games.
The return of starters Johnny Jolly, Nick Perry and Sam Shields didn’t help, even though the Packers recovered two fumbles and had two interceptions. Part of the problem was that Green Bay’s offense was equally inept and unable to parlay the turnovers into points.
The larger issue, though, was consistently letting Detroit off the hook on third down. The Lions converted 75 percent of their third downs (9-of-12), and had eight “explosive” plays — 20 yards or more — with four coming on third down.
“It’s a mixture of everything, really,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I mean, if we had the answers, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But ultimately, you see missed tackles, you see people not in their right gaps or assignments, their technique. You see certain unscouted looks.
“It’s a mixture of everything, but ultimately, there really is no excuse, as Coach said. We’re pros and should be able to read and react enough to shut down the run or shut down the pass or whatever they ask us to do.”
Since quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with a broken collarbone against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 4, the Packers’ defense has allowed an average of 440 yards per game in four losses and one tie.
Green Bay’s offense has struggled as well, converting only 25 percent of its third downs in that stretch and putting a lot of pressure on the defense. But linebacker Brad Jones wasn’t blaming the offense for the defense’s problems.
“We’re a team, but defense, we play defense,” he said, “no matter how many snaps we have to play out there, we play defense. We have to play better defense, we have to. If we’re out there 1,000 plays, we’ve got to stop them 1,000 times. That’s kind of the mentality we go into it with, so when we put up results like this ... disappointing isn’t the word, it’s a lot, it’s overwhelming.”
Until the Packers get their defense in order, the inevitable questions will persist about whether the problems go all the way back to coordinator Dom Capers. When asked if the team has Capers’ back, Hawk was adamant.
“Of course, 100 percent,” he said. “It’s not his fault that we’re letting them run down our throat. That’s us, we’re players, we’re on the field. You can’t sit there and blame a coach for that. Yeah, we’re behind him 100 percent.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.