There are two main issues with the Green Bay Packers defense this season: bad execution and bad situational defense at key moments late in games. It’s the latter that contributed the most to the two most recent losses at the New York Giants in Week 14 and at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15. More specifically, the bad situational defense tends to show itself on high-leverage third downs.
In Week 14, the Packers lost 24-22 on a last-minute game-winning drive by the Giants and in Week 15, the Packers lost 34-20 after giving up 10 explosive plays of 20 yards or more (nine pass, one run) and 14 total pass plays of at least 15 yards or more. Some of this can be explained by coverage busts and failed assignments. The rest, however, lies primarily on the shoulders of defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
Week 14 @ NYG, 3rd-and-9, 3rd quarter, 6:48 remaining
In Week 14, the most critical play they gave up was a 3rd-and-9 conversion on a touchdown drive just after the midway point in the third quarter. The Giants would go on to score and it’s this play that ends up being the most important because situationally, the play call did not make sense.
The Giants are running a sail concept into the boundary from a 3x1 formation here. They’re going to chip release the tight end to the flat and run the inside slot receiver on a sail route to try and put the seam/flat defender in conflict.
The defense is in a 5-man rush with a 3-deep/3-under coverage behind it. Keisean Nixon is the seam/flat defender here and versus a flood/sail concept, he should be playing deep to shallow with enough positioning to close on the flat.
The tight end stays in to chip before releasing to the flat so the coverage defenders, already at or passed the line to gain, continue gaining depth until they see the ball is thrown. It might have been gameplan specific, but in the past, while protecting at this depth, the defenders never gave much ground around the line to gain. Here, they were asked to drop beyond the first down line and the result was a first down given up.
Nixon gains depth on the sail route but is out of position to challenge the flat route after the catch. Eight plays later on another 3rd down, the defense gave up a touchdown that put the Giants up 21-13.
Week 15 vs TB, 1st quarter, 3rd-and-4, 11:52 remaining
The game plan versus Tampa Bay was to take away Mike Evans (which didn’t work) and force Baker Mayfield to find other receivers in the hopes of generating enough pressure within the down to force quick decisions.
On 3rd-and-4 here on the Green Bay side of the field, the Buccaneers come out in a 4x1 and motion to 3x2 empty formation with Evans slotted to the left on the two receiver side. The right side is a high-low combination with an in-breaking route and a hitch underneath it and the left side has Evans running a seam bender route.
The defense is sitting in nickel cover-3 cloud but they are rolling coverage toward Evans again with Quay Walker cheating his middle hook zone over to the two-receiver side.
The coverage rotation leaves the trips side vulnerable with not just two defenders over three receivers and the quarters safety playing off coverage. Mayfield just picks the easy free access throw to the inside quick hitch and Tampa Bay converts to a first down on a drive where they’d only end up kicking a field goal. What isn’t clear is why Quay Walker (No. 7), the 3-receiver hook/middle hook defender, is opening to the two receiver side post-snap. This is likely a game-planned adjustment due to facing Mike Evans.
Week 15 vs TB, 2nd quarter, 3rd-and-3, 1:21 remaining
On another drive before the end of the half, the Buccaneers managed to come away with three points where it looked like the interior defender was rolling coverage toward Evans again.
The Buccaneers are just going to run a hitch into the middle of the zone defenders here with Evans running a slot fade to the left. Post snap this turns into a 3x2.
The defense is playing a combo coverage of quarters to one side and man coverage, most likely 2-man, to Evans’ side, the two receiver side, with Walker again opening to Evans’ side.
The result is Chris Godwin converting a short 3rd and 3 on a hitch route into the soft spot of the quarters coverage underneath at the line to gain. With a corner and safety playing off, Campbell needs to re-route the receiver and throw off the timing on his way to the flat. The Bucs convert and go on another scoring drive to end the half.
Week 15 vs TB, 4th quarter, 3rd-and-4, 8:48 remaining
Tampa Bay would put the game out of reach on this drive and pad their lead to 14 a few plays after this third down conversion. This play is both a combination of weird alignment and bad execution
The Buccaneers are running a 3x1 formation with a dig route over the top of a hitch route over the middle from the #2 and #3 receivers in the trips to the left.
The defense is in Tampa-2 with safeties that are 15 and 25 yards deep on 3rd-and-4 and with De’Vondre Campbell as the middle runner.
As the middle runner Campbell should not be opening too quickly until he’s sure of the route distribution, which would give him adequate time to change direction and break on a pass over the middle. The safeties being so deep probably has an effect on this due to the potential for a seam route at mid-field. But the Packers aren’t even giving themselves a chance to squeeze those throwing lanes and are giving away too much space.
While execution may be lacking, a portion of the blame can be pinned on coaching for putting the players in disadvantageous positions while trying to cover too much space. If Joe Barry wasn’t on the hot seat, he is now and is feeling the pressure even if Matt LaFleur stood behind his coach after the game this week and declared that no changes would be made. It’s all but a forgone conclusion that Barry is gone but it’s just a matter of time as to when that happens. Nothing will really change the outcome at this point.