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Packers defense finds a cure for third-down woes against the Bears

Hint: winning on first and second down really helps.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears
Clay Matthews and the Packers defense spent much of Sunday against the Bears in the Chicago backfield.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers’ defense on third downs last Monday night was a joke. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford never felt a Packers pass rush being paid to get home on money downs and Stafford made stick throws all over the field into helpless coverage.

In all, the Lions converted 8 of 13 third downs, including a number of third-and-long situations.

Against a rookie quarterback, Dom Capers and his defense should have found more success, and lo and behold they discovered some on a soggy day at Soldier Field.

The Bears managed just 4 conversions on 14 third downs against the Packers and the reason was pretty simple: Green Bay won on first and second down.

Of those 14 third downs, 10 of them were 3rd-and-9 or longer and half of them were 3rd-and-12 or longer (h/t Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic Chicago for the stats).

Part of that was Chicago shooting itself in the foot with penalties, but the Packers provided plenty of resistance as well.

Green Bay once again dominated this Bears run game, allowing just 55 yards on 17 carries, a 3.2 per-carry average. Plus, nearly half of those yards came on a single run from Jordan Howard on a 25-yard scamper.

Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark teamed up to dominate the powerful Bears interior and the Packers created penetration all day, finishing with 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. Nick Perry posted three sacks on his own, eating Bears left tackle Charles Leno for a nice, hearty lunch.

Those plays keep opponents off schedule. Even good teams struggle to convert third-and-12 consistently.

Yes, the Packers allowed the Lions to convert some of those same third-and-longs that the Bears (with rookie Mitch Trubisky) were unable to convert, but those conversions are outliers generally, against any defense.

In fact, the Lions are one of the worst per-play offenses in football. When Green Bay faces the Lions in Week 17, it would be unlikely if the Packers force a similar number of third-and-longs that Stafford would once again slice the defense to bits in the same way.

The Packers have been in the mid-20’s most of the season in third-down conversation defense, but a mix of effective blitzes and four-man rush with mostly man coverage stymied a bad offense on Sunday.

Luckily for Green Bay, over the next two weeks they face more struggling offensive units. If they keep forcing third-and-longs by winning on early downs and creating tackles behind the line of scrimmage, they’ll continue to get off the field.