The Green Bay Packers defense continues to struggle with inconsistency this season and that was clearly visible in London against the New York Giants.
The Packers defense was expected to be an elite unit this season after GM Brian Gutekunst reinforced the unit by using both of his first round picks on ILB Quay Walker and DL Devonte Wyatt, adding free agent defensive lineman Jarran Reed and re-signing All Pro inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and effective cornerback Rasul Douglas.
But through five games, the unit has struggled with consistency despite mostly facing a collection of subpar offenses that either featured non-elite quarterbacks, injured receiving corps or banged up offensive lines. The schedule will only get tougher for the Packers and the defense will have to rise to the occasion to reach the expectations they had before the season got underway.
There are many reasons for the Packers defensive disappointments so far this season. They come from different sources and different problems have cropped up during different games. Here are some of the bigger issues the defense must figure out before it can reach its potential:
- Untimely Penalties
This problem was particularly big against the Giants in London. The Packers defense had penalties that derailed some big plays and created problems for the team after they apparently stopped the Giants offense and forced punts.
Penalties negated sacks by Jarran Reed and Rashan Gary and gave the Giants a total of four key first downs in the game. The Reed sack also caused a fumble which Reed recovered and would have given the Packers the ball at the Giants seven. The Packers had a 17-3 lead at the time and would have gone up 20-3 with a field goal or 24-3 with a touchdown. That would likely have put the game out of reach for the Giants.
That demonstrated a lack of discipline and laziness on the part of defensive backs who were often called for holding downfield when the player committing the alleged infraction was nowhere near the ball.
The Packers cannot afford to beat themselves especially when they face more talented offenses in November and December and in the playoffs if they get there.
- The Defense Is Not Creating Enough Turnovers
Great defenses do important things more than average defenses and two of them are forcing the opposition to punt and causing turnovers. Turnovers prevent the other team from scoring and often give your offense the ball with a short field.
Through five games, the Packers have not won the turnover battle in any of them. They have intercepted only one pass as a team which puts them on pace for 3.4 interceptions over 17 games. Last year, that would have placed them last in the NFL as no team had fewer than seven picks.
The Pack has recovered three fumbles in five games which would put them on pace for 10.2 fumble recoveries for the year.
The defense needs to create more big plays and more turnovers to improve their effectiveness.
- The Run Defense Remains Suspect
The Packers run defense is not a point of emphasis for defensive coordinator Joe Barry and in the modern NFL, that makes a certain amount of sense.
The addition of Walker in the first round of this year’s draft was supposed to help in this regard as the team would play less dime defense and not be as small in the box with two off-ball linebackers on the field nearly all the time.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked out that way and the Packers have struggled to stop the run even when they knew opponents had to run the football.
The Packers have allowed 126.4-yards rushing per game thus far and rank 21st in the league in that department. Opponents are also averaging 4.8-yards per carry against the Packers, which ranks 22nd in the league.
The Packers tackling has been disappointing as well with too many missed tackles hurting the team.
While the team is unlikely to emphasize stopping the run, they need to be a little better at it than they have been so far, this season.
- A Lack of Adjustments
The Packers defense has not made enough effective in-game adjustments this season. The Giants adjusted their offense at halftime, for example, and the Packers had no answers. The Giants scored on each of their final five drives that mattered (excluding the late-game intentional safety) although they were missing many of their top wide receivers and their quarterback was slowed by an ankle injury.
The team also struggled to stop the Vikings Justin Jefferson when they knew the Vikings would keep going back to him.
The Packers often play a soft zone defense but they don’t adjust when the cushion they are giving costs them completion after completion.
The Packers need to make better in-game adjustments and that includes both schemes and execution.
- A Failure to Defend Crossing Patterns
The Packers pass defense under Barry is primarily a zone defense. Opposing teams have had success running crossing patterns against the Green Bay secondary starting with Jefferson and the Vikings in Week 1.
Even the Giants who had yet to gain 200 yards in a game this season before facing the Packers had success on crossing patterns without their top receivers.
The defensive backs seem to be having communication issues as to when to let a receiver go and when they should be picking him up as he comes into their area of the field.
Opposing teams will continue to run these plays at key moments until the Packers prove they can stop it. Whether the approach itself needs to change or the team needs to get better at communicating and executing the scheme remains a question, but the Packers need to get this figured out soon or they will continue to get burned on crossing patterns especially after they face a higher caliber of quarterbacks later in the season.
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