All the attention has been given to the Green Bay Packers’ offense recently and rightfully so. The offense is the reason for the struggles of the team and it’s so different then what it has been in the past. We all know the problems there though. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been accurate, the receivers can’t get open — and when they do often drop the ball — the coaches cannot scheme players open, they’re not getting enough running attempts and the whole offensive line is on the injury report. Yikes, that’s a lot. With that being said, it would be a good time to look at what the Green Bay defense is doing and just how good it really is.
The Packers have played really good defense for three consecutive weeks. However, about the only thing different from the past was when they shut down Adrian Peterson. Dom Capers and his defense has always had the numbers of Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in the past. They also lose some credit for the Detroit game when they gave up seven points on the most crucial drive of the game. If the defense makes a stop there the Packers very likely win the game. Playing well until it really matters has been a theme recently under Capers. The 2014 NFC Championship game would be the most glaring example.
The Packers are a top 10 scoring defense this season, ranking eighth in the NFL at 19.5 points per game. They’re in the top half of the NFL in Football Outsiders DVOA at 13th. They have some great talent at all levels on the defense. Mike Daniels and Datone Jones have been dominant recently up front (Jones coming off the edge at times as well), Clay Matthews has been amazing against the run, and the secondary is extremely talented. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has had a very solid season other than the Carolina disaster, and playing Casey Heyward on the inside with Sam Shields and Damarious Randall outside is a huge step up from Hayward outside and Micah Hyde inside. Hyde should not really see the field a lot anymore with Quentin Rollins showing up well blitzing and in coverage . So, there is a lot to work with here.
The problem tends to be veteran quarterbacks and quarterbacks who can run. Dom Capers’ schemes have been around forever and veteran quarterbacks can pick them up pretty easily. This happened in the second half of the Bears game when Adam Gase went to all those bubble screens to counter Capers’ blitzing. Capers never found an answer. Phillip Rivers was constantly making adjustments at the line in the San Diego game and nothing was ever changed. It just always seems like in a big spot a Capers blitz rarely gets home.
I wanted to test the theory out about the defense not performing against established veteran quarterbacks. By my calculations, the Packers have had 19 of those games since 2013, and I went back and combined the stats for those 19 games. In those 19 games the Packers faced Russell Wilson three times, Colin Kaepernick twice, Tony Romo twice, Matt Ryan twice, Cam Newton twice, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Those quarterbacks have gone a combined to go 409/644 (63.5 percent completion percentage) for 5,299 yards (279 yards per game) with 37 touchdowns against 16 interceptions and a 99.7 passer rating. The Packers have also allowed an average of 28 points per game in these matchups.
Is this good enough? Probably not if your aspiration is to win the Super Bowl because these are the kind of quarterbacks you will have to beat in the playoffs. When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010 the opposing quarterbacks did not have stats like that in the postseason. Obviously, these quarterbacks are good and everybody’s numbers will be worse against them than the bottom feeder quarterbacks, but the Packers have rarely had a good game against any of them. The 2014 NFC Championship game is the outlier and if you take that out it probably looks worse. You can cut a quarter of the interceptions off right away. As mentioned before, they collapsed when it mattered most that game anyways taking away from the overall performance.
Mike McCarthy and the Packers will always look to the overall numbers regarding the defense and try to make you believe things will be different against these quarterbacks until we get there and it isn’t. It’s what keeps Capers in his job every year. This defense seems to fall right in line with poor games against Manning, Rivers and Newton but solid in all others. With the offense looking the way it has for almost two months, the Packers better hope their defense isn’t fools gold like it has been in the past.