The Packers defense is bad and it’s a coaching problem. I’m sure you’re used to it. The team’s cumulative defensive pff grade is tied for third best in the league. Meanwhile, it ranks 21st in defensive DVOA, 16th in yards per play given up, 18th in EPA, and first in most times lining up 10 yards off the LOS on third and 7 (I made that one up). It’s obvious that the defense has talent, but it’s not being put to good use.
Rashan Gary, De’Vondre Campbell, Preston Smith, Rasul Douglas, Kenny Clark, and Adrian Amos all grade out at top 20 at their position per PFF. Clark and Amos would probably be even higher but have been used in so many different ways on so many different plays that I suspect their grade had suffered a little this season.
Darnell Savage, Eric Stokes, Kinglsey Keke, and Dean Lowry have all shown flashes of pro-bowl level play this season, but none of them have graded particularly above average on the year. Each of them has the physical ability and talent to sustain above average play.
It’s true that the defense has suffered from injuries. But so has every other team. The offense has suffered just as many and has the second highest DVOA. The problem, right now, is the scheme.
The scheme is designed to shut down the pass by not giving up big plays. You rush four, play soft zone coverage from a two-high shell and wait for the QB to make a mistake. You don’t really worry about the run game because you’re defending by stopping the pass.
It’s certainly true that they haven’t worried about the run. The defense’s rush DVOA is ranked 31st. The problem is that they aren’t really shutting down the pass. They rank 14th there.
14th is fine for a powerhouse offensive team, as long as it can stop the run and has good special teams. But if you’re basically last stopping the run because you sell out so hard to stop the pass, you need to at least be a good pass defense. Fine isn’t going to cut it.
This weakness is killing the Fangio-tree teams this year. Brandon Staley’s Chargers may have the worst run defense of all time and rank 26th in total defensive DVOA – despite their wunderkind head coach and starting hall of famers Joey Bosa and Derwin James. Denver is 19th overall and 23rd against the run – Fangio’s Bears and 49ers defenses always dominated against the run. NFL offenses have figured out how to run against light boxes and odd fronts.
The only team that has done well is the Rams, who rank 4th. They have three premier interior defenders who can all play gap-and-a-half on each down. Maybe it was their personnel that was great last year, more than the scheme.
The other thing the Rams do is move around their interior defenders. Stunt the d-linemen and blitz at a 26.4% rate from different formations with different personnel packages.
I don’t want to give up on the scheme. But if the defense is going to be good enough to win the super bowl this year, it needs to get more creative. You can’t count on all pressure coming from Rashan Gary losing contain. You can’t predictably play off coverage on every third down. You can’t play light on obvious run downs.
Use Oren Burks more to blitz and on the edge when there are heavy personnel up front. Use press coverage on third downs. Get creative with defensive linemen placement and stunting. Do something. Getting Jaire and Za’Darius back at 50% isn’t going to be enough.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.