The Green Bay Packers defense has become an asterisk beside an otherwise masterful series of performances by the defending champions over the course of this 8-0 season.
Whenever you mention the Packers, there’s always a caveat as it relates to whether or not this squad can hold off the opposition.
Sunday’s latest showing against the chronically underachieving San Diego Chargers only added another chapter to the questionable defensive performances that have become commonplace over the course of 2011. Despite being up 21-7 after the first quarter, Green Bay continued to let the home team rally the troops and crawl their way back into the game. Ultimately, they went into the fourth quarter up 31-24 and had to put up 14 points just to compete with San Diego.
Now, it’s important to note that both Charlie Peprah and Tramon Williams came up with some crucial interceptions on Sunday. The latter, in particular, sealed the game for his Packers when he picked off Philip Rivers with less than a minute remaining in the outing. That’s all well and good. But, how is it possible that the league leader in interceptions was able to throw three picks, have two returned for touchdowns, and still only have his team lose by seven points in a game that featured 83 cumulative points scored?
It speaks to problems with the Green Bay defense. And ones, mind you, that the players are well aware of.
"That's been us the whole year," Tramon Williams said after the game, "and I know it's a broken record, [saying] that you want to come out and correct it. But guys are playing their assignments, and we know our assignments. But sometimes guys aren't where they're supposed to be. Hopefully, we can correct that."
Williams wasn't alone.
"You love it when [Rodgers and the offense excel] when your defense is stinking it up," Charles Woodson told reporters after the game. "To have those guys perform the way they're performing week in and week out is definitely advantage, Packers. But to have us -- on our end -- continue to fold and allow teams back in the game, we can only ask so much.
"We're all professional and consider ourselves a good defense –- or supposedly a good defense -- but there are a lot of things we got to do better. We're 8-0, and happy about that. No question. But we're disappointed from a defensive standpoint."
Now, acknowledging the problem is all well and good – but at a certain point it’s time to take steps to fix things. We went into extreme depth a while back on the specific steps defensive coordinator Dom Capers is attempting to take to cure the ailing defense, but so far it hasn’t translated into effectiveness on the field.
That being said, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com had an interesting take on Woodson’s complaints:
Woodson's most specific request was for the Packers to find ways to get linebacker Clay Matthews in more favorable pass-rushing position. Matthews has three sacks this season, and overall the Packers are tied for No. 17 in the NFL with 19 sacks. One idea would be to get back to moving Matthews around more often along the defensive line. But with Matthews relatively locked down on the left side, the Packers have played solid run defense. Matthews has been a big part of that. He's also drawing a fair share of coverage responsibilities when he lines up over the tight end. Capers would have to sacrifice the success Matthews is having in those roles if he starts moving Matthews around. I'm guessing Woodson would take that tradeoff. But will Matthews?
Seifert’s point is valid, clearly. This is all food for thought and deserves legitimate consideration.
However, in defense of Woodson’s original point – maybe shifting Matthews, although it would moderately hinder the rush defense, would be worth it for Green Bay’s main problem area in the pass defense to finally be addressed. Maybe, for now, forcing opponents to have to focus on exploiting the rush versus the pass is the temporary solution necessary to plug the obvious holes that the 31st ranked pass defense in the league going into last weekend has.
Time will tell what the right plan of attack is, but until the Packers suffer their first loss, this problem likely won’t be taken as seriously as it should be.