Green Bay Packers defense breaks down in first half, allowing four touchdowns

Jim Owczarski
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) gives up a catch over the middle to tight end Jordan Reed (86) against Washington Sunday, September 23, 2018 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

LANDOVER, Md. – Late last week, Green Bay Packers defensive passing game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. issued a very public warning to his group as it prepared for Sunday’s game at Washington after Minnesota had thrown for four scores, including a 75-yard deep touchdown in the middle of the field.

“We’re going to get tested,” Whitt cautioned. “They should test us because we put a negative play on film.”

Coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Alex Smith did just that in a decisive first half in which Washington scored all four of its touchdowns in a 31-17 victory over the Packers.

“Jay wanted to be aggressive early,” Washington wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. said. “And it worked for us.”

Smith hit tight end Jordan Reed for seven yards on Washington’s first play, and then found fellow tight end Vernon Davis for 20 in the middle of the field. On the very next play, Smith attacked Packers safety Kentrell Brice and cornerback Jaire Alexander on a deep post route that resulted in a 46-yard touchdown to Richardson and a quick 7-0 Washington lead.

“We was in Cover 4,” Brice said of that play. “I was doing what was asked of me to do. Anything else you can ask the coach.”

Added Alexander: “Cover 4, we played a different kind of; some kind of technique, I’m not too sure. Just play them as they go, as they get down the field you pick up on the routes.”

While Brice and Alexander chose not to say much about that play, cornerback Tramon Williams said the play wasn’t so much Washington attacking the players, but the scheme.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Blake Martinez (50) tries to fill a hole on running back Adrian Peterson (26) against Washington Sunday, September 23, 2018 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

“It’s not always going to be based on them trying to challenge what they saw on film as much as it’s based on you’ve got a good, veteran quarterback who reads the coverage and knows you’re in a defense that they can beat,” Williams said. “They can beat you with that deep ball, that post ball, and we’re in that defense and we’re in that defense a lot and they’re going to attack it because that’s the defense we’re in. It goes both ways. You’re putting pressure on the player because the routes that they’re running is a beater for that coverage. So it gets kind of tough. As a player, you just have to protect yourself and know where your weakness is in that coverage.”

Smith acknowledged as much postgame, saying he felt Gruden had calls that could work against some of Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s varied personnel groupings.

“I thought we had them on their heels in the first half,” Smith said. “They didn’t have a very good beat on what we were doing, run and pass. It was fun.”

Allowing Washington to cover 75 yards on four plays on its opening drive was a harbinger of things to come for Pettine’s group the rest of the half. The next Washington scoring drive covered 79 yards, but 47 came by way of pass interference penalties on Alexander, Williams and Davon House.

The third scoring drive featured a 34-yard pass to Reed and then a 41-yard run by Peterson. The fourth scoring drive featured a 50-yard pass to Vernon Davis and an 18-yard reception by Washington receiver Jamison Crowder.

Washington moved nearly at will in the opening 30 minutes of play, to the tune of 323 yards of total offense with an average of 9.8 yards per play. Their only speed bumps were a punt in the first quarter and a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix interception in the second.

To cover that much ground in just a half, Washington hit on nine plays of 12-plus yards and five plays of 20-plus yards.

To put that into context, Washington had five plays of 20 or more yards in its first eight quarters of the season heading in.

Green Bay also allowed an 80 percent conversion rate on third down and could not get to Smith or stop running back Adrian Peterson. The Packers had just one hit on Smith in the first half and did not record a sack or tackle for loss.

“They just did a good job of taking their shots and executing,” Packers corner Josh Jackson said. “We just gotta try to get stops earlier, make plays earlier.”

The performance looked like a continuation of the defense’s issues over the final three quarters of last week’s tie against the Vikings, when it gave up 22 points, 326 yards and 4 of 7 third downs.

“I would say that come the fourth quarter, overtime of last week, some of that carries over to the first half, but I thought our guys did a good job of setting their jaw,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “The defense gave us plenty of opportunities in the second half.”

That indeed was the case, as the defense forced four consecutive punts and allowed just 63 yards and a late field goal after a turnover, but it was too little too late after the first-half implosion.

“They made plays,” McCarthy said. “They took the shots in one-on-one and they converted them. That’s what this league’s about. To score points, you have to make big plays. That’s always been the case and they did a heck of a job of it in the first half.”


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