Last year the defense gave up an unprecedented amount of yards through the air. We all know that story and we debated what the cause of it was through the long offseason. Was it tackling? Was it poor depth in the secondary? Was it the toll of injuries? Was it a poor pass rush? So on and so forth. This year the defense doesn’t quite look up to its 2010 form, but it does look improved from 2011. However games like this past week’s do arise a chicken or the egg question when it comes to passing yards….is the amount of yards given up the product of a bad pass rush or poor coverage?
Right now it’s hard to not lay the blame on the pass rush. Last week’s pass rush was especially poor. The Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line is not one that is celebrated around the league. Really they have only one good player, Eugene Monroe. Otherwise ProFootball Focus rated them the 31st in pass protection. Yet somehow the Packers couldn't get home. Monroe had a great day against Matthews, not completely unreasonable, and no one else could find the effort to get to Gabbert. That’s troubling.
Worse yet, the tackling woes came back in spades. A.J. Hawk blew a key tackle which resulted in a big play for the Jaguars. Many other Packer defenders seemed to follow suit, hitting a Jaguar with the shoulder and then not wrap up. It was jarring to watch because the Packers had been much better at this skill in 2012. Injuries take their toll on talent to be sure, but that does not excuse the players for lacking in fundamental skills against a struggling team like the Jaguars.
Review Of The Pass Defense
Blaine Gabbert – 27/49 303 YDS 6.2 AVG 1 TD 2 Sacks 80.6 RTG
Ceil Shorts III – 8 REC 116 YDS 14.5 AVG 35 LG 12 TGTS
Morgan Burnett – 11 TOT 9 Solo 1 Sack 1 TFL
Erik Walden – 2 TOT 1 Solo 1 QB Hit
If 2011 taught us anything it’s that Clay Matthews is awesome, but he can’t be a one man pass rush. Someone else has to step up and get pressure. If 2011 taught us one more thing, it’s that Erik Walden can’t be that guy to provide that other end the pass rush. Yes, he’s been better this year. Yes, he’s had some good games. But when he’s the only guy out there he tends to play small and get lost, especially in rushing the passer. If you are wondering how bad Walden was this week, he made PFF’s "Had A Bad Day" team this week. Walden isn’t alone though. B.J. Raji did nothing in his first week back. Jerel Worthy had to leave early with a concussion but did nothing before going out. Mike Neal also left with an ankle but did nothing as well. When this many guys fail to take advantage of one on one match ups there are going to be problems.
On the back end, the secondary held up well considering the scheme and lack of pressure. Regular readers of the comments section know how many Packer fans long to see more man on man coverage instead of the soft zones. The nice thing about the soft zones is that when the Packers tackle well they bend but don’t break. It’s not an awful plan when the offense is clicking and forcing the opposing team into making mistakes. It’s not a great plan when the game is close and you need that third down stop. Once again the young corners turned in an acceptable day to say the least. Davon House was solid enough in coverage and so was Casey Hayward. This is even more impressive considering how much their role has increased over the past two to three weeks and missing Sam Shields and Charles Woodson. The future may be bright for the Packers secondary.
I also should mention that M.D. Jennings did not look like a liability out there. Jennings got the start on Sunday and adequately performed his job. That’s not the highest of praise I know, but it’s a large improvement from this first start against the 49ers.
Bottom line for this part of the defense is that we need that pass rush back. If the Packers are able to get Nick Perry back in the lineup that would be a huge upgrade over Walden. It also wouldn’t hurt to see more Dezman Moses. He may not always have the smartest of play, but he does hit hard and can get after the quarterback. Finally the health of Worthy and Neal will be important. They each had a bad game this week, but both have shown an ability to get after the QB this year and the Packers need that more than ever. Finally, my question is why are we sending Clay Matthews back in coverage so often? Yes it helps with unpredictability, but if everyone else on the defense is playing like bums in pass rushing shouldn’t we send our best pass rusher as often as we can?
Review Of The Run Defense:
Rashad Jennings – 17 CAR 59 YDS 3.5 AVG 21 LG
Brad Jones – 10 TOT 7 Solo 1 Sack 1 TFL 1 QB Hit
A.J. Hawk – 6 TOT 3 Solo
Ryan Pickett – 5 TOT 3 Solo
Believe it or not, but the rush defense was not half bad. If you take away the one long run on the part of Jennings his numbers look as bad (or worse) than Alex Green’s did this past weekend. For whatever reason the Jaguars went away from the run in general. It could be the result of a strong rush defense, in which case kudos to Pickett, Raji, and Jones. It could be because the Jaguars were playing from behind and could not score a touchdown to save their souls. Either way the Packers should just chalk it up as a win and move forward.
Review Of The Special Teams – Punting and Kickoffs
Tim Masthay – 5 Punts 225 YDS 45.0 AVG 1 TB 1 Inside 20 65 LG
Jacksonville Kick Returns – 4 KR 84 YDS 21.0 25 LG
Jacksonville Punt Returns – 1 PR 0 YDS
The special teams of the Packers have been a wild ride this year. Lots of aggressive play calling. Lots of better play in general. The game against the Jaguars saw both a high amount of execution and aggressive play calling….only problem is that those two things did not happen on the same plays.
This was the first week where McCarthy and Sloccum’s play calling bit them in the ass. Seriously, why do you have Tim Masthay throw the ball on fourth and eight? Worse yet, why do you even have him try and read a defense? Someone needs to remind them they have the league MVP on the sidelines who can do both of those things much better than any punter on the planet. Heck he can do that better than most quarterbacks on the planet. The best news about this particular play is that McCarthy admitted it was wrong and all but said it will never been run again.
Masthay’s punting wasn’t much better yesterday. He got some good long punts in, but he also got some knuckleballs as well. Fortunately for him, the cover teams covered his rear end and held Jacksonvile to zero yards returning. This week also saw the rare Masthay touchback. Maybe this is too high a standard, but with all the balls placed inside the 20 by Masthay this year, getting touchbacks is quickly becoming a disappointment.
From bad to good. How amazing was it to watch that punt block? Evan broke down the play in spectacular formyesterday so there is no need to do that again. The only thing to say here is that you should read Evan’s article if you haven’t yet and Davon House made a great play…even if he wasn’t blocked.
Despite the errors the special teams units were probably the most consistent out of the three phases of the game for the Packers this week. It may not be saying much for the offense or defense, but at least the special teams aren’t abysmal.
It’s hard to believe given the amount of yards given up, but the team really did rely on its defense this past week…..and the defense generally came through. This is good news as the team continues to grow. It gives the young guys some confidence (especially with winning like this without Woodson) and it shows the team how to win without Rodgers putting up an amazing game. It makes the team more well rounded. The bad news is that not all offenses are as anemic as the Jaguars. There is plenty to learn from in this game and plenty to grow off of.
Heck if Morgan Burnett just continues playing with the leadership and confidence he did in this game from this point forward then that may be a bigger win than the W in our win loss column.