Unfortunately, he also got burned numerous times for touchdowns. While his prolific picks may have been prophesized by some
, I doubt his poor pass protection was also part of that premonition. Midway through a still undefeated season, the Packers enigmatic defense continues to be… an enigma.
On the one hand, they’re really good. They are tough in the red zone. They lead the league in interceptions with 16. They took away 3 on Sunday, two for touchdowns and one to ice the game. As impressive as the Packers’ offense was, it was the Packers’ key defensive plays that won the game.
On the other hand, they stink
. The are the 30th ranked defense in the league, allowing an average of 400 yards per game. And their points allowed, which was respectable for a while, is now only mediocre – ranking 15th in the league at 22.4 points per game.
You have to assume that the Packers drop off this season in defensive performance is due primarily to the loss of two key players. On the line, Cullen Jenkins is definitely missed. His ability to both shut down the run and get pressure on the quarterback is unique. His absence has resulted in more double teams on Matthews, and reduced sacks overall. The Packers have only 19 sacks on the season, 17th in the league.
The "WTF!?" shoulder shrug as diagrammed in the Packer playbook
In the secondary, the loss of safety Nick Collins for the season is clearly causing communication breakdowns in coverage. Both Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah have been consistently out of position, biting on routes and letting receivers get by them at critical times. They don’t seem to be confident about where each other is on the field – as evidenced by their frequent “WTF!?” looks and accompanying shoulder shrugs. The combined impact of a lackluster pass rush and miscommunications in the secondary is allowing opposing offenses to rack up both points and yards.
The 14-game winning streak and national media hype is obscuring the defensive lapses that are an increasingly concerning weakness about the 2011 Packers. So far, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers NFL-leading 34.4 points per game on offense are glossing over the poor showing on defense and keeping the Packers in the win column.
But sooner or later the offense will struggle to put up points. Though they fared well Sunday against the Chargers 7th-ranked defense, the Packers really haven’t faced any formidable defensive teams so far this year. All their other opponents rank 14th or lower in total defense with the Saints 15th, Panthers 18th, Bears 25th, Broncos 22nd, Falcons 14th, Rams 23rd, and Vikings 20th.
The defensive deficiencies were something many thought would be shored up after the bye week, following the pattern of last year. But the Chargers’ 38 points and 470 yards of total offense Sunday proved there is still cause for concern. The record may be perfect, but the play on defense has been far from it. And any talk of 16-0 will go out the window if they don’t get it cleaned up.