GREEN BAY – One day after the Green Bay Packers lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to what is looking more and more like a season-ending broken collarbone, Dom Capers said expectations didn’t change for his defense.
Keep the same approach, Capers stressed. The job is no different than before.
And if that were true, the Green Bay Packers would have won Sunday.
Because if Rodgers were healthy and behind center, there’s a good chance the Packers hold the Baltimore Ravens to 10 points in what instead became a dispiriting 23-0 loss at Lambeau Field. There’s a good chance because, of the Ravens' five scoring drives, three came on short fields. On those three drives, resulting in 13 points, the Packers allowed a combined 36 yards on 10 plays.
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It was like that all day. Frequently, the Packers' defense had its back to the red zone, if not the goal line, defending a short field.
“We just think about trying to keep them out of the end zone,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said.
That’s a fine goal for any defense. Usually. On this afternoon, the Packers needed to do a lot more.
Because across the field was a Ravens defense thinking about more than just keeping Brett Hundley and the Packers' offense out of the end zone.
The Ravens' vaunted defense accomplished that, handing the Packers their first shutout since a 35-0 home loss to the New England Patriots on Nov. 19, 2006. It also did a lot more. The Ravens sacked Hundley six times. They forced five turnovers. It was a clinic in how a defense can win a game in a quarterback-driven league.
The Packers' defense played well Sunday. It held the Ravens to fewer total yards (265-219), rushing yards (75-58), passing yards (190-161) and first downs (16-14) than the Packers.
But the Packers' defense didn’t do a lot more: just one forced turnover (an interception from safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) and three sacks (half the total the offense allowed).
“At halftime,” defensive end Dean Lowry said, “we were saying, ‘Let’s get the ball out. Let’s get an interception. Let’s get a forced fumble. Let’s create opportunities for our offense.’ I think we stopped them, but we didn’t really create as great field position as we wanted to.
“So that was a big part of our game plan too, was making sure we were getting turnovers. Which, Ha Ha had a great pick in the first half, but I think we need more of those.”
Too often Sunday, the Packers were playing on a tilted field. Their average starting position was the 19.6-yard line. The Ravens’ average start was their 46.3. Before the Packers punted inside the final minute, the Ravens' average start was the 48.3.
That’s almost a 30-yard difference in starting field position. On average.
In the fourth quarter, the Ravens started three straight drives at the Packers’ 30-yard line or better. Each one of them was a gift: a lost fumble, a turnover on downs, Hundley’s third interception. The Packers started in plus territory only once, following a 15-yard penalty on the Ravens for “verbally abusing” an official, in referee Jeff Triplette’s words.
It’s not a winning formula, tilting starting field position so heavily in one direction.
“It didn’t matter,” Daniels said. “We have to put out the fire regardless of where the ball is at.”
Baltimore had the benefit of playing an aimless Packers offense led by Hundley, whose helplessness was highlighted by how often he tossed passes out of bounds instead of seeing open receivers.
BOX SCORE: Ravens 23, Packers 0
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But the Packers also had the benefit of playing a bad Ravens offense. Baltimore entered Lambeau Field ranked 32nd in the league in passing. On the season, quarterback Joe Flacco was averaging almost a half yard fewer per pass than Hundley.
This was a Ravens offense able to be dominated. Flacco’s worst decision Sunday, the interception to Clinton-Dix, came inside the 25-yard line and took points off the board. That was midway through the second quarter, in a game that was close throughout primarily because of the Ravens' offensive limitations.
The Packers didn’t force another turnover the rest of the way.
“There’s always something we could’ve done,” outside linebacker Nick Perry said. “More turnovers, giving them more opportunities, I think that’s always something we look at. That’s all I got.”
It was a tough loss for the defense, dispiriting for a unit that often has been the bigger culprit in defeat. When the Packers' defense plays well inside Lambeau Field, it isn’t accustomed to losing.
Yet there was also a lesson to learn. Rodgers isn’t returning any time soon, if at all. If the Packers have any hope of staying in contention, yes, the defense’s job is different with Hundley behind center.
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PACKERS CHAT: Ryan Wood at 1 p.m. Monday
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The Packers' defense didn’t lose Sunday’s game, but it didn’t do much to help them win. It was the Ravens that showed a defense can keep the opposing offense out of the end zone, and do even more to help a bad offense.
“Moving forward,” inside linebacker Blake Martinez said, “we just need more impactful plays. Turnovers, strips, anything. Sack. Whatever it is.”