GREEN BAY - In the past two weeks, the Green Bay Packers have allowed 29 points in the fourth quarter.
They entered the final 15 minutes against the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings leading by 17 and 15 points, respectively. Both games were victories. Regardless, the fourth quarter has left a bad, last impression.
“Obviously, we’d like to finish,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
If the Packers punch their ticket to the playoffs this weekend, fourth-quarter defense will be key to how long they extend their postseason run. But it’s a dangerous, fine line to straddle.
The Packers' secondary has been prone to allowing big pass plays all season. Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford completed four passes of at least 20 yards in Saturday’s first half, including a 71-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen in the second quarter.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took a bad angle on the play, colliding with cornerback Quinten Rollins on the right sideline. The Packers led 21-6 at the time. They were in complete control, until one play pulled the Vikings within one possession on the scoreboard.
A 71-yard touchdown in the second quarter is bad enough. In the fourth quarter, the Packers can’t afford to allow quick-strike touchdowns while sitting on a big lead. Which is why Capers dials back the blitz and demands his defensive backs not get beat deep.
“They’d hit us on some pressure calls,” Capers said. “They had thrown the ball up, the 71 yarder was a pressure call. They hit us on a fade on a pressure call. You get to that point in the game, you don’t want them to go one play and then they’ve got plenty more time. They ended up scoring on both of them (final two drives), and one of them was a blitz down in the red zone that they hit us on.
“Tried to make them go the long way, really.”
After allowing four 20-yard pass plays in the first half, the Packers gave up just one on their final two defensive series. Both Vikings drives ended with fourth-quarter touchdowns, which isn’t the plan. The best prevent defense prevents points.
But the Vikings were forced to use 13 plays on their first touchdown drive of the fourth quarter, then 10 on the next despite getting possession at the Packers' 34-yard line. Combined, the two drives ate up seven minutes, 49 seconds. The Vikings needed to convert three fourth downs on their two touchdown drives, including a fourth-and-12.
“We got them to fourth down,” Capers said, “and they had some conversions there which enabled them to sustain drives. The one thing we did was we made them go the long way.”
When asked about his pass defense Monday, Capers said the biggest problem is the amount of big plays the Packers allow.
His secondary’s vulnerability to the big play is especially frustrating because it gives Capers no choice but to drop into a prevent defense late in games. With a three-score lead, allowing a four-minute touchdown drive is much preferable to a one-play touchdown strike.
“The big plays is what we have to eliminate,” Capers said. “Their only touchdown in the first half came on a big play. They had three or four pass plays. I think 32 (yards), 71 (yards) and we had a couple 20-yarders. That’s where people score points on you. Even though they had a couple drives in the first half, we did a nice job down in the red area and held them to field goals.
“Don’t let them score quick.”