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Packers’ pass defense must improve when playing from behind in 2019

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In 2018, Green Bay’s defense struggled to give its offense a chance to come back, as evidenced by opposing quarterback stats.

NFL: DEC 30 Lions at Packers Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sometimes in sports, the eyeball test and the numerical data align when comparing subjects. For the Green Bay Packers, this was not a positive thing when judging the defense’s inability to get critical stops in 2018. And it was not just on third downs to get off the field, but when the opponent was leading the ballgame.

For a second consecutive season, the Packers’ defense allowed a quarterback rating of over 100 according to Pro Football Reference. The 100.9 overall rating ranked Green Bay fifth-worst in the NFL and was a telling number for the challenges the defense encountered. But perhaps the most staggering situational opposing quarterback rating came when the Packers were trailing. The Green Bay defense gave up an astronomical 111.8 rating through 373 total plays when behind, while the average NFL defense allowed just a 95.4 rating in a slightly lower number of plays. While the Packers also fell below the league average when the game was tied or in Green Bay’s favor, the figures were much closer to the mean.

If the Packers are to contend for a championship again in 2019, the Packers’ defense must do its part to keep the team from digging a deeper hole when trailing.

When comparing this statistic from 2018 to successful Packer defenses of the past, the results are not surprisingly far apart. The 2011 Green Bay team that posted a 15-1 record clamped down when trying to catch up, allowing just a 64.5 rating. The Super Bowl team of 2010 was especially strong in this regard with a 33.0 mark. The Packers’ 1996 defense, one that ranked among the league’s best, brought the Lombardi Trophy home with an impressive 71.8 rating. Without delaying the point, Green Bay’s most competitive teams put up significantly more resistance against quarterbacks when attempting a comeback.

And it was not just the quarterback rating stat that tortured the 2018 squad. Completion percentages and passing yards per attempt also were disproportionate from teams of the past when the Packers were trailing.

Opponent Splits with Packers Trailing (Pro Football Reference)

Season Completion % Yards/Attempt QB Rating
Season Completion % Yards/Attempt QB Rating
1996 58.2 5.6 71.8
2010 53.3 3.4 33.3
2011 58.1 6.6 64.5
2018 64.6 8.0 111.8

The struggles in each of these categories surely contributed to the Packers’ defensive third-down issues and finishing with a 3-5 record when trailing after three quarters. While injuries impacted the Packers’ pass rushers and secondary last season, they do not fully excuse the team’s poor defensive play. Quarterbacks moved the ball with relative ease and efficiency when playing with the lead.

While Green Bay’s splash free agent signings and draft picks should help alleviate some of those problems in 2019, the team’s lack of consistency when trailing must be corrected to make another postseason run.