I had been surprised at how well the Green Bay Packers' pass defense had held up in the first 3 games after CB Al Harris was lost for season with a torn ACL. But then came Big Ben and his 503 yards of passing offense. What happened against Pittsburgh that didn't happen in the previous three games?
Opponents: In the first three games without Harris, they played the Lions, Ravens, and Bears. Neither the Lions or Bears can throw the ball. The Ravens have a good pass offense, but RB Ray Rice is a large part of their passing success. The Ravens' don't have a dangerous wide receiver or tight end.
The loss of Harris against the Steelers hurt in the case of WR Santonio Holmes. He was covered for most of the game by CB Charles Woodson. But in past games, if a receiver was having a big game, such as TE Vernon Davis did back in November, the Packers could adjust and cover him with Woodson. But against the Steelers, the Packers couldn't make any adjustments. Woodson had to stay on Holmes or WR Hines Ward, and they had to rely on the recently signed CB Josh Bell. The additional losses of likely dime CB Pat Lee and backup CB Will Blackmon earlier in the season have robbed this unit of its depth, and Mike McCarthy said that "changing personnel frankly is not an option."
But the Steelers also presented another unique problem: they have four very good receivers. According to Football Outsiders, Ward, Holmes and WR Mike Wallace are all ranked among the Top 30 wide receivers. Also, TE Heath Miller is ranked in the Top 10 for tight ends. That's four receivers that deserve respect, and RB Rashard Mendenhall took advantage of that respect to find himself wide open a couple of times.
I'm not even talking about playoffs. The Packers have to win their next two games and then I'll talk about the playoffs. But looking at the rest of the schedule, expect to read stories about how well the Packers' pass defense responded to the poor game in Pittsburgh. Next up is the Seahawks, who's best receiver according to Football Outsiders is WR Nate Burleson, and he's likely out for the season. The Cardinals are more of a challenge but if they at least rest WR Larry Fitzgerald, he played through a knee injury last week, then their best receiver is WR Steve Breaston at No. 26 according to FO. Those are matchups the Packers can handle with their starters.
As far as next season goes, I would love to see them draft a defensive back in the 1st round who could play at cornerback or safety, and also push CB Jarrett Bush off the roster. Then draft an offensive tackle in the 2nd round as either a successor to LT Chad Clifton, or just provide them with better depth.