Packers’ defense bending, but not quite broken

When Daylight Savings Time ended last weekend, the Green Bay Packers went too far back when resetting their clocks: all the way back to 2018.

Like last year’s team, the Packers were infested with issues in all three phases. The offense gave up on the run, Rodgers was sacked on big third downs, and he was forced to play backyard ball. Special teams were in classic Ron Zook fashion with penalties and poor tackling and blocking. The defense played soft and gave up far too many big plays.

Occasionally a team just poops its pants. Even the best Packers teams have one repugnant game that, like an eldritch tome, is best left forgotten. The offense excelled against better teams and should continue to do so. Special teams can’t get much worse, right? The Chargers are better than their record suggests, and the Packers are still at a lovely 7-2 and in control of the NFCN. However, the defense is trending in the wrong direction and has been for a few weeks.

During the first three weeks of the season, the Green Bay defense played incredible football. Jaire Alexander auditioned for the role of All-Pro, Kenny Clark turned interior lineman into pancakes, the team was creating turnovers, and the Smith Bros were passing out sacks like Halloween candy.

Yet while the Smiths continue to play elite football, the defense as a unit regressed. Not as many pressures are becoming sacks. Turnovers that were so commonplace have become scarce. The secondary is getting handily beaten by fast receivers. Big plays are far too commonplace. Running backs tear through this defense, and offenses are taking advantage.

The Packers’ next two opponents feature elite running games. Christian McCaffrey is keeping the Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers afloat and is receiving serious MVP buzz. Kyle Shanahan is LaFleur’s coaching senpai and knows all the tricks of a running back dominated offense. These are serious NFC teams that could put a damper on Green Bay’s playoff run.

No one is aching for a return to the days of yore when Aaron Rodgers had to play god-mode football and score 40+ points per game for the Packers to win. We aren’t anywhere close to that yet, thankfully, but a downward trend in November is less than ideal.

Luckily, the future isn’t full of gloom and doom. The Packers are the definition of a “bend, don’t break” team, as the red zone defense holds strong. Unlike previous years, the talent is there to turn things around. The Smiths continue to play up to their contracts and beyond, and the pressures should turn to sacks more frequently. Jaire Alexander is a truly special talent, and still only in his sophomore season.

Pettine is at his best as an aggressive playcaller. The Packers went soft after Darnell Savage’s injury and hadn’t reverted back after his return. With Ibraheim Campbell returning this week, now is the time to go back to that aggressive style.

In fact, Campbell’s return could be the key to setting the defensive ship back on course. Campbell fills the box role left in disarray after Raven Greene’s injury. His comeback allows Adrian Amos to play in his natural role, and Campbell himself should shore up some run game issues. In addition, this allows B.J. Goodson to see more playing time as a run stopper.

The loss against the Chargers was disappointing for sure, but the team has the talent to shore up defensive deficiencies. A loss can humble and reveal areas for improvement, and ideally, this very good Packers team can continue to impress.

Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.
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