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Lack of defensive execution nearly costs the Packers another game

Execution issues plague the Packers' defense in a narrow win in Week 16.

Green Bay Packers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Even though the Green Bay Packers won 33-30 on Sunday, the game should not have been nearly as close as the defense let yet another opponent crawl back into a game that should’ve been over much sooner. They led 23-10 and 30-16 at one point to the Carolina Panthers and still couldn’t finish the way they needed to, calling into question defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s leadership this entire season.

The game planning and execution have been issues nearly all season off and on but more egregiously apparent the last few weeks. And to make matters worse, they’re going to be heading into a crucial Week 17 game versus Minnesota without Jaire Alexander because of his decision to head out for the coin toss in Week 16 with the captains. To be fair, Alexander didn’t play well versus Carolina either but he’s been pretty effective against Justin Jefferson.

In addition to the poor in-game decisions by Barry, the defense also just made basic mistakes that let the Panthers back in the game with missed coverage assignments and being unable to cover receivers adequately enough.

On the first touchdown drive, Quay Walker was caught out of position twice, one versus a pass and another versus a run. On a pass play, the Panthers put a vertical stretch on him as the “reroute curl” defender.

The Panthers are running mesh drive from a condensed 3x1 formation.

The Packers are playing Tampa-2 coverage here on 3rd-and-7 with Walker as the reroute curl defender where his primary responsibility is the curl zone where the dig is thrown behind him.

Bryce Young reads Walker’s drop and sees that Walker runs up to cover the shallow crosser. This is just bad situational football by Walker as he can easily rally to tackle the shallow crosser but he has to zone drop into the throwing lane and discourage the downfield throw.

A couple of plays later he got caught in the same gap as his defensive tackle on a 13-yard gain versus the run.

The Panthers are running duo and the running back is reading the fit off Walker in the strong side A-gap. But defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt is already there. Walker needs to be in the backside A-gap after reading the blocks to that side. The way T.J. Slaton comes off the ball laterally into the B-gap here is the indicator that Walker should be in the backside A-gap.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers would score to cut the lead to 30-22 and the drive kicked off with a Bryce Young scramble and throw to Adam Thielen for 15 yards.

Carolina is running a stick inside of a go route to the left with a backside dig to the right.

The defense is in cover-6, quarters to the offense’s right and cover-2 to the offense’s left.

The pass rush causes Young to drop his eyes and look to scramble. He might have had a bigger throw on the dig route and that’s likely where he would have progressed next. Nonetheless, he escaped the pocket and made a play primarily because no one plastered to Thielen on the scramble and that defender should have been Nixon.

Instead Nixon chased the quarterback and this let Young hit Thielen as Lukas Van Ness was tackling him. Had he covered Thielen, Young would’ve attempted a tougher throw to D.J. Chark on the sideline, a pass he very likely wouldn’t have completed.

A coverage bust directly contributed to a third down conversion and a touchdown to tie the game at 30. And that occurred when Jaire Alexander didn’t sink under a deep route as the cover-2 corner after losing him in the route distribution.

The offense is running a slot fade and curl from a stack alignment to the left.

The coverage call is cover-8, cover-2 to the passing strength and quarters to the weak side. The nickel defender aligns to the cover-2 side in cover-8.

In cover-8, Alexander should funnel #1 inside and sink under #2 if the slot receiver goes vertical like he does here. Alexander sat too long on the outside curl route and couldn’t get back in time to affect the pass to Chark. To make matters worse, safety Anthony Johnson was flagged for unnecessary roughness for his hit on Chark on this play, giving Carolina an additional 15 yards.

Outlook

Even though the Packers won, there are still calls from outside the house to relieve Barry as defensive coordinator but head coach Matt LaFleur has no intention of doing that, at least not yet. Instead, in the post-game press conference, LaFleur deflected the outcome of the narrow win back on the offense saying they needed to play better.

While there is no Barry news, the biggest news this week instead is that the Packers have suspended Alexander a few days before a crucial must-win game for a chance to go to the playoffs. Winning in Week 16 increased their odds from 5% to 25%. A win in Week 17 boosts those odds to 55% but a loss drops them to 1%.