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Cheese Curds, 11/24: Packers’ 3rd down defense is worse than raw numbers suggest

The timing of conversions, and the yardage gained on plays when the opponent doesn’t convert are part of the problem.

Green Bay Packers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Believe it or not, the Green Bay Packers’ defense ranks 12th in the NFL on third downs. Their opponents have converted just 39.5% of their third down attempts, good for 12th in the NFL, and the Packers rank near the top of the league on third-and-long.

So why are Packers fans — and head coach Matt LaFleur — so frustrated with the defense?

Perhaps it is the fact that certain schemes have appeared to be responsible for the conversions that do occur. It’s one thing when a cornerback is pressing and challenging a receiver only to see that player break a tackle and pick up the first down; that’s an individual problem that’s disappointing, to be sure, but not a schematic one. But when your entire secondary sets up behind the line to gain and does so repeatedly — giving up chunks of yardage and often allowing a player to convert before even being touched — that is an issue with coaching and scheme.

The other factor affecting the team’s third down numbers is that on occasion, they do not allow a conversion but instead give up enough yardage on third down to set up a short fourth-down attempt. That happened twice against Indianapolis and it’s a reason why the numbers do not always match the narrative.

In today’s curds, we’ll look a little deeper into that frustrating down and see some of LaFleur’s comments about the defense’s approach — and he’s not happy.

Truth About Green Bay Packers’ Third-And-Long Defense - SI.com
It’s surprising if you’ve watched this team, but the Packers are actually in the top ten in preventing conversions on third-and-8 or more and second in third-and-10 or more. But what those raw numbers don’t account for are plays like the screen late in the game that put the Colts within range to go for it on fourth down.

Here’s LaFleur on Monday talking about the scheme on third and long:

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The Packers keep putting Preston Smith on the field for over 75 percent of defensive snaps, while Rashan Gary is out there for less than half of the plays. You can see it with your eyes and through the numbers: Gary is simply the better player right now, particularly as a pass-rusher.

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Eight years after blowing a big lead in Indianapolis, the Packers did it again on Sunday. And it took another calamitous breakdown in multiple phases of the game for that to happen.

Team support matters most to Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling | Packers.com
After getting ripped on social media and by one particularly prickly reporter via Twitter and in Matt LaFleur's press conference, MVS spoke to the media on Monday at a low point following his overtime fumble. He's grateful to his teammates and coaches for having his back, and he certainly did not deserve to have his humanity challenged.

Lambeau Field to evaluate COVID-19 protocols at Packers-Bears game with family of Packers employees | Packers.com
The Packers are testing out gameday protocols with a small group of 500 people in the stands on Sunday to see if they feel comfortable opening up Lambeau Field to fans in the coming weeks. That’s only one part of the equation, though, as conditions around Green Bay and the state of Wisconsin will help determine if that’s at all reasonable. No fans will be allowed at either of the next two games, so week 15 against Carolina would be the first possible date.

Mike McCarthy channels inner Gallagher, smashes watermelons before Cowboys’ win over Vikings | NFL.com
Our ridiculous story for today’s curds comes from within the NFL and, in fact, from an old friend. McCarthy, apparently fed up with his team’s 2-7 start, decided to take out his frustration with a sledgehammer before Sunday’s game. Hopefully he won’t follow Jack Del Rio’s example and put a stump and an axe in the locker room next week.