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The Packers’ pass defense is the cure for the common quarterback

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Fans criticize Dom Capers over his inability to stop good quarterbacks, but Green Bay’s problems are much worse.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns
It’s not just the great quarterbacks who are tearing up the Packers defense, it’s the bad ones too.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the criticisms leveled against Dom Capers, the most resonant with fans is the Packers’ inability to do much of anything against good quarterbacks.

Going into a game against Drew Brees or Ben Roethlisberger, there’s little hope Green Bay can get stops when it needs to. Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive against the Packers in November being the prime example for such concerns. But the problem for the Green Bay pass defense runs much deeper.

It’s not just the good quarterbacks; it’s all of them.

In 14 games, the Packers held just four quarterbacks below their season average in passer rating, with only three below their yardage, completion and per-attempt numbers. Quarterbacks playing the Packers defense on average threw for 28.5 yards above their average, posted a completion percentage 4.8 points better, a yards per attempt figure 0.76 yards above their average, and an incredible 12.5 points better in passer rating.

That’s essentially the difference between a mediocre quarterback and a great one. That’s how much better quarterbacks play against the Packers. In other words, if an average quarterback like Derek Carr plays the Packers, he turns into Tom Brady. And a terrible one like DeShone Kizer plays Green Bay, he becomes Derek Carr.

That’s ... concerning.

Interestingly, the four quarterbacks to play below their season averages were split among good and bad. Russell Wilson and Drew Brees failed to hit their season averages (though for Brees it was two picks that really hurt him). On the flip side, this defense kept Mike Glennon and Case Keenum from hitting their season averages and though Keenum has been a “bad” quarterback most of his career, he’s been excellent this season.

An intellectually honest case could be made that of the four quarterbacks against whom the Packers defense has excelled, three fall in the “good” category.

Below Average

Russell Wilson

Vs. Packers: 158 yards 51.9% comp. 5.85 YPA 0 TD 0 INT 69.7 Rating
2017 Average: 261 YPG 61% comp. 7.3 YPA 2.1 TDs .78 INTs 94.1 Rating

Mike Glennon

Vs. Packers: 218 yards 63.4% comp 6.61 YPA 1 TD 2 INTs 67.5 rating
2017 Average: 138.8 yards 66.4% comp 6 YPA .67 TDs .83 INTs 76.9 rating

Case Keenum

Vs. Packers: 239 yards 63.2% comp 6.3 YPA 1 TD 1 INT 78.7 rating
2017 Average: 247.6 yards 67.9% comp 7.5 YPA 1.54 TDs .54 INTs 98.9 rating

Drew Brees

Vs. Packers: 331 yards 71.1% comp 8.71 YPA 1 TD 2 INTs 84.4 rating
2017 Average: 275 YPG 71.8% comp 8.1 YPA 1.5 TDs .5 INTs 104.0 rating

For some reason, the Packers have owned Wilson lately, and Drew Brees outperformed his yardage averages against Green Bay. Brees’ two turnovers were what kept the Packers in the game, and they count. Damarious Randall and Davon House made those plays and they were huge in getting stops.

And interceptions was the one area where the Packers were decent at outperforming season averages, doing so in half their games this season.


Much more concerning for the Packers should be the list of 10 quarterbacks they couldn’t stop, including Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton. These should be the games the Packers make their hay, and couldn’t. That said, they were 3-1 in game against the quarterbacks listed in this paragraph, and they were 2-1 with Brett Hundley at quarterback.

That shouldn’t excuse the poor play. The Packers normally have the best quarterback in this galaxy and having a defense that he consistently has to pick up clearly hasn’t been a sustainable model.

Above Average

Matt Ryan

Vs. Packers: 252 yards 67.9% comp 9 YPA 1 TD 0 INT 108.0 rating
2017 Average: 249.3 YPG 65.2% comp 7.5 YPA 1.3 TDs .79 INTs 92.0 rating

Andy Dalton

Vs. Packers: 212 yards 76.4% comp 7.85 YPA 2 TDs 0 INTs 124.1 rating
2017 Average: 204 YPG 60.1 % comp 7 YPA 1.5 TDs .79 INTs 87.0 rating

Dak Prescott

Vs. Packers: 251 yards 69.4% comp 6.97 YPA 3 TDs 1 INT 105.2 rating
2017 Average: 211.7 YPG 63.4% comp 7 YPA 1.5 TDs .79 INTs 89.6 rating

Matthew Stafford

Vs. Packers: 361 yards 78.8% comp 10.94 YPA 2 TDs 0 INT 132.4 rating
2017 Average: 280.0 YPG 66.3% comp 7.8 YPA 1.79 TDs .64 INTs 99.1 rating

Mitchell Trubisky

Vs. Packers: 297 yards 60% comp 8.49 YPA 1 TD 0 INT 97.0 rating
2017 Average: 182.2 YPG 59.8% 6.7 YPA .7 TDs .7 INTs 77.8 rating

Joe Flacco

Vs. Packers: 183 yards 78.57% comp 6.54 YPA 1 TD 1 INT 90.9 rating
2017 Average: 192.9 yards 64.2% comp 5.8 YPA 1 TD .85 INT 79.1 rating

Ben Roethlisberger

Vs. Packers: 351 yards 73.3% comp 7.8 YPA 4 TDs 2 INTs 106.8 rating
2017 Average: 287.5 yards 63.9% comp 7.6 YPA 1.86 TDs 1 INT 92.2 rating

Jameis Winston

Vs. Packers: 270 yards 65.6% comp 8.44 YPA 2 TDs 0 INTs 112.8 rating
2017 Average: 252.2 YPS 64.0% comp 7.6 YPA 1.55 TDs .72 INTs 93.6 rating

DeShone Kizer

Vs. Packers: 214 yards 71.43% comp 7.64 YPA 3 TDs 2 INTs 99.4 rating
2017 Average: 184.5 YPG 53.9% comp 5.8 YPA .62 TDs 1.46 INTs 59.4 rating

Cam Newton

Vs. Packers: 242 yards 64.52% comp 7.81 YPA 4 TDs 0 INTs 128.0 rating
2017 Average: 211.6 YPG 60.3% comp 6.8 YPA 1.5 TDs .85 INTs 85.4 rating

Ultimately, the Packers defense allows an average of 28.5 yards above their opponent’s average. That’s the difference between Alex Smith and Tom Brady. Capers’ unit gives up completions at a rate of 4.8 points above their opponent’s average. That’s roughly the same disparity between Alex Smith, who is third in the league in completion percentage, and Derek Carr, who is 17th.

Their per attempt difference (.76) is the same as the disparity between league-leading Tom Brady (8.1) and 16th-best Russell Wilson (7.3). And the incredible 12.5-point difference between an average passer rating for a Packers opponent and his performance against Green Bay would be equal to the gap between the best passer rating in football and 15th.

In other words, this defense can take an average quarterback and have him perform like the best in the league.

Playing against good quarterbacks is a problem for most teams. That’s why they’re good quarterbacks. But a good defense has to be able to make a mediocre or bad quarterback look like one. Green Bay’s can’t and in fact goes the other way, allowing just OK players to be good, and decent players to be great.

Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton tearing up your defense is one thing. But making Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer look like above-average quarterbacks (not even just above-average for them) should be an enormous red flag. This should be another piece of evidence to suggest the Packers desperately need a change in defensive leadership and strategy.

If Dom Capers, whose best skill has long been destroying bad and inexperienced quarterbacks, can no longer do that, what does he really bring to this team?