Long day for Packers' defense after early interceptions

Michael Cohen
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers cornerback Davon House (31) breaks up a pass intended for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Corey Fuller (11) in the second half Sunday, October 22, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. 
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

GREEN BAY - His interception of Drew Brees warranted a celebration, so Green Bay Packers cornerback Davon House tossed the football to the ground and flattened it with an elbow drop straight out of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Brees had entered Sunday’s game with only two interceptions through the first five games, but that number doubled when House out-positioned wide receiver Michael Thomas to deaden a promising drive.

The defensive party had begun on the previous possession, the first of the game for the New Orleans Saints, when cornerback Damarious Randall notched his third interception in as many weeks to extend one of the more ironic subplots. Randall ran vertically down the middle with Brandon Coleman, a bigger and stronger receiver, but reacted quickly to an underthrown ball and secured it in the end zone for a touchback.

On an afternoon when the Packers craved turnovers to lessen the burden on their own quarterback, Brett Hundley, who was making the first start of his career, the secondary had ripped the ball away from a future Hall of Famer twice on its first two possessions.

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“Those two turnovers, Damarious and House taking the ball away, were huge,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “One was in the end zone and one was dang near getting in the end zone. I felt for the most part we did a pretty good job. Unfortunately, in the second half it was night and day. We obviously didn’t uphold our end of the bargain and gave up way too many big plays.”

An afternoon that might have offered emotional ballast as the Packers enter the bye week devolved into an unwelcome reminder of numerous defensive inefficiencies. Brees awoke from his heinous start to throw for 331 yards and a touchdown, the most passing yards allowed by the Packers this season. His two tailbacks, Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, combined for 217 total yards and averaged 5.4 yards per touch. His aging speedster, wide receiver Ted Ginn, outraced the Packers’ secondary for 141 yards on seven catches.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Kentrell Brice (29) is callled for a horse collar while tackling New Orleans Saints' Mark Ingram (22) on Sunday, October 22, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Saints defeated the Packers 26 to 17.

The damage was equal parts pointed and comprehensive, with third-down conversions undressing the Packers at key moments and a general pattern of yards ripped off in chunks. When it ended the visitors had outgained the Packers by 225 merciless yards.

“Not good enough, not good enough,” House said. “We’ve got to do a better job on third down again. A few times they had third and long and they were able to convert the ball on some screens. They hit us on some long, long pass plays. That’s not acceptable. We want to be a top-10 defense, and that’s not what a top-10 defense will do. We’ve got to get better.”

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The first hint of the Packers’ impending problems arose near the midway point of the first quarter, when coach Mike McCarthy burned an early timeout on defense. On the shoulders of Brees, whose mental acuity for the game is not unlike that of Aaron Rodgers, the Saints rolled through numerous personnel groupings within the context of each possession, taxing defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

They showed power looks with an extra offensive lineman and a traditional fullback. They morphed into the spread with empty backfields, five wideouts and bunches of receivers to one side of the formation or the other. Panic erupted on the Packers’ sideline, and defensive players were uncertain about who should or shouldn’t be joining the lineup.

When the Saints scored their first points of the game on a 12-yard run by Ingram, the Packers had only 10 players on the field defensively.

“They’re an extremely fast offense,” inside linebacker Blake Martinez said. “Drew Brees is obviously a great quarterback. He’s able to kind of get them in and out, use their personnel in a smart way. And yeah, it was difficult out there. I think overall we did well, but there were some times where we were kind of mixed up.”

Ingram (22 carries, 105 yards) and Kamara (14 touches, 107 total yards) enjoyed the majority of their success in the first half, even as Brees’ turnovers limited the Saints to a single score. And it was their ability to pepper the Packers for consistent yardage that laid the groundwork for a second half enlivened by play-action passes. Kamara gained 83 of his 107 total yards in the first two quarters; Ingram chipped in 51 yards of his 110.

NOTES:Healthier Packers limping into bye

BOX SCORE: Saints 26, Packers 17

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Ginn and Thomas (seven catches, 82 yards) were the beneficiaries of effective play fakes behind the line of scrimmage. At 32 years old, Ginn retains the majority of his trademark speed that was clocked at 4.28 seconds during his collegiate career at Ohio State. He thrives on deep crosses that force defenders to run laterally across the field, and Brees found him for a 47-yard gallop in the third quarter that triggered a field goal to give the Saints the lead.

“Majority of the time they just try to run away from you,” House said. “If we’re man to man, not too many people can keep up with him with how fast he is. Line up on one side of the numbers and run to the opposite number, and Drew Brees just throws it up and hopefully he can catch it.”

If Ginn thrived on yards after catch, especially as he outran House and rookie Kevin King on the 47-yard gain, Thomas played the role of possession receiver. He hauled in passes of 13 yards, 21 yards, 9 yards, 20 yards and 5 yards in the second half alone, two of which converted third downs of 6 yards or more.

The inability to get off the field on third down infuriated the Packers, who allowed conversions on eight of 15 attempts Sunday, three of which were in excess of 9 yards. The Saints converted three third downs in the fourth quarter alone to surge in front with a two-score lead.

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“I don’t know,” House said of the third-down issues. “It’s depressing though.”

Brees took the field five times in the second half and scored on four of them. On the fifth, he kneeled three times to preserve a win.

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