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Packers’ Jekyll and Hyde defense must find consistency

It’s been streaks of points that have killed Mike Pettine’s defense this season, while they dominate for other stretches.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
After getting worked in the first half, the Packers defense clamped Washington in the second half.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Against the Bears, it was the first few drives. The next week, it was the final few for the Vikings. On a sloppy day in Washington, it was the entire first half.

Mike Pettine’s defense has given up 10-0 runs, 14-0 runs, and 14-3 runs at various points this season. Alex Smith and Co. hit up the Green Bay Packers’ defense for 28 in the first half. Kirk Cousins hung 22 on Pettine’s crew in just the fourth quarter. Even Mitch Trubisky got 10 straight to open the season.

On those drives, the Green Bay defense looked discombobulated and undisciplined. Missed tackles and missed assignments marked long scoring drives kept alive by key penalties and key conversions. What makes this even more maddening for fans is the rest of the game, this unit looks ferocious.

After that 10-play, 86-yard drive to open the Bears season, Chicago managed just 210 total yards in 56 plays after that. That’s 3.75 yards per play and dominating defense. But that’s against Mitch Trubisky, hardly a high bar right?

Before the third quarter drive that ended in fourth-quarter touchdown for the Vikings in Week 2, Green Bay held Minnesota to 147 yards in 36 plays and just the lone touchdown. That’s barely four yards per play. After that, they gave up 191 yards on 20 plays and three touchdowns plus the two-point conversion to tie.

And against Alex Smith in Week 3 the defense allowed 336 yards in 34 first-half plays, giving up 28 points. In the second half, the Packers defense gave up just 50 yards on 21 plays, with 3 points coming off a short field following Randall Cobb’s fumble.

Defensively, the Packers have played two dominant second halves and one dominant first half. Jay Gruden was protecting a lead and may not have been as aggressive, up double digits against the Packers, but if that’s true he’s a bad history student. We’ve seen what Rodgers can do. It’s still up to the defense to make those plays and they did.

It’s worth mentioning that the Vikings’ offensive explosion correlates directly to the loss of Kevin King with injury. Davon House got torched on the 75-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and generally struggled against Washington with bad penalties and poor technique.

His injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Packers, who now bring in Bashaud Breeland — one of the prized cornerback free agents this offseason — to add stability to the cornerback room. Breeland would be an upgrade over House in any circumstance, but getting him for cheap just when this team needs depth could provide the ideal shot in the arm for Mike Pettine’s group.

But they have to do better on early downs and in the red zone. When the Packers blitz, they’re highly effective, but they’re saving that mostly for third-and-obvious passing situations. According to The Athletic’s Ben Fennell the Packers have the second-most effective blitz package in football this season, giving up a 31.2 quarterback rating with two picks, two sacks, and no touchdowns.

On the other hand, when teams are driving it and getting in scoring position, they’re too often finding paydirt. This was a common problem for the Packers last season under Dom Capers when they were the worst situational group in the league.

Quarterbacks inside the 30 are 16/20 with 4 TDs and 0 INTs for a 135.8 rating, second-worst in football. Part of that comes from a lack of top-tier talent in their primes. Clay Matthews isn’t a field-tilter and Nick Perry runs too hot and cold. While Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson could be stars in the future, they’re not ready to put a defense on their back and there are too many holes right now in communication and execution when defending the goal line.

Situational defense should improve as the defense works more in unison, but they also need some of these young players to grow into playmakers. Kevin King must stay healthy, with his impact on this defense so evident. There may not be a way to hide the obvious deficiencies of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice, but Pettine will have to find a way.

This defense has flashed brilliance and utter incompetence. If this defense can just replace the latter with mere competence, it should be good enough to give Aaron Rodgers and this offense plenty of chances to score enough to win.