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Packers-Saints Performance Grades: Defense falters in the Big Easy

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We take a second look at the Packers 44-23 road loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday and hand out positional performance grades.

Chris Graythen

No other sports league does overreaction quite like the NFL. At 1-2, the Packers were in trouble and looked dead in the water to many experts. After a four-game winning streak, the Packers were considered by some to be the best team in the NFC, and a surefire contestant to face the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Sunday's contest in New Orleans presented a chance for the Packers to stake a real claim to being one of the best teams in the NFL. No one beats the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in front of a national audience, so if the Packers were able to pull off that feat heading into their bye week; they would likely move up in the HUGELY important weekly power rankings.

The Packers and Saints exchanged blows throughout the first half, with each defense making enough stops to hold the opposing offense to three field goals. In the second half, the Packers defense wasn't able to make those timely stops, and the result was a blowout in front of a national television audience.

Are the Packers the best team in the NFC? No.

Are they as bad as they looked on Sunday night? No.

The truth is, the Packers are a playoff-caliber team with arguably the best quarterback in the league. When you have one of the best players at probably the most important position in sports, you have a chance every year. Unfortunately, until this defense can stop the run consistently, it significantly limits this team's ceiling.

Let's take a look at the grades.

Quarterback: B-

Aaron Rodgers (+2.5 overall, +1.8 pass according to Pro Football Focus) finished 28 of 39 for 418 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also added two rushes for 21 yards and a touchdown. The Saints employed a "Cover 2 man" coverage throughout the game, essentially daring Rodgers to throw the ball deep. He was able beat the coverage early on when he found Cobb for a 70-yard touchdown on a broken play and on a 67-yard screen pass to Eddie Lacy, but other than those splash plays the Saints defense limited the big plays and made the key stops that they needed, especially in the red zone.

Rodgers was clearly bothered by his hamstring injury in the second half, as it limited his mobility and forced him to rely more on his arm strength than extending plays with his legs and throwing receivers open with different arm angles. He didn't appear to be the main culprit on either of his interceptions (and PFF explicitly noted that they did not downgrade him for either one), but when the offense stalls in the red zone on multiple occasions, that falls on the quarterback.

Running Backs: B+

Eddie Lacy (+3.9 overall, +2.8 pass, +1.0 rush) rushed for 59 yards on 13 carries and added eight receptions for 123 yards. James Starks added five yards on two carries, while DuJuan Harris added four yards on two carries.

Lacy was a physically imposing presence on Sunday night, breaking six tackles and making defenders pay when they decided to tackle him high. His pass protection continues to improve and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is an added element that Lacy wasn't as strong at as a rookie. The only thing he still needs to work on is reading his holes out of shotgun-formation runs.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C

Randall Cobb (-0.4 overall, 0.0 pass) caught five passes for 126 yards and one touchdown, while Davante Adams (-1.9 overall) added seven receptions for 75 yards. Cobb was able to create separation on a consistent basis and flash his elite-level speed in the open field. The only drawback on Cobb's performance was his lack of run blocking. He can be directed blame for the failed run on first-and-goal after the long Lacy screen pass, as he wasn't able to get to the linebacker on his side of the field. Adams looks more and more comfortable with each passing game he plays in, but he can be directly blamed for the second of Rodgers' interceptions, when it appeared that he cut a route short instead of going across the middle of the field.

Jordy Nelson (-0.3 overall, -0.9 pass) caught three for 25, and was pretty much shut down by double coverage. The Saints consistently put a safety over the top on Nelson, which allowed cornerback Keenan Lewis to play in front of Nelson and shadow him.

Richard Rodgers added four receptions for 58 yards, while Andrew Quarless added two for 19 yards. Rodgers showed soft hands while picking up a low pass and was able to create more separation on his routes than Quarless did. Quarless gets the primary blame on the first interception, as he ran a poor route, and then tipped the ball up in the air instead of using his size to box out the smaller defender on his hip.

Offensive Line: C+

Bryan Bulaga (-3.9 overall, -3.4 pass block) had a tough time even slowing down Cameron Jordan and was responsible for six hurries and one sack. David Bakhtiari (-0.9 overall, +1.6 pass block, -1.7 penalty) allowed two sacks and one hurry, and was also called for a holding penalty and a false start.

Lane Taylor (-4.7 overall, -4.8 run block) only allowed one hurry in pass protection, but was awful in run blocking. It's probably not fair, considering the offensive line is the most dependent on player familiarity and practice reps; but you have to show a little more than that when the team calls your number.

Josh Sitton (0.0 overall, +0.1 pass block) allowed four hurries, while Corey Linsley (+1.4 overall, +1.0 screen block) allowed one. His delay of game penalty was costly, but he continues to be the team's best run blocker and is improving his pass protection technique on a weekly basis.

Defense: D-

I don't like compiling an entire unit like this, but every position on defense had its fair share of blame on Sunday night. The defense's cumulative PFF grade was -12.1 overall, -6.2 run, -2.0 pass rush, and -5.7 coverage. Anytime you allow a pass-happy offense like the Saints to rack up 193 yards on the ground, you're going to have a bad time. Throw in the fact that the defense was without its best man-to-man cornerback and most experienced safety (against one of the best quarterbacks in the league on his home turf) and you get exactly what you got on Sunday night: nearly 500 total yards allowed and a 21-point loss.

The only players to grade out well were:

Mike Daniels (+2.4 overall, +2.8 run)
Clay Matthews (+1.0 overall, +0.7 run defense, +0.1 rush) with one sack
Casey Hayward (+1.4 overall, +1.0 coverage)
Julius Peppers (+0.7 overall, -0.8 run, +1.3 rush) with one sack and four hurries but also two missed tackles and a dropped touchdown pass on offense

The leading culprits (according to PFF) were:

Tramon Williams (-2.8 overall, -1.8 run, -0.6 coverage) with two missed tackles
Davon House (-2.8 overall, -3.3 run) with three missed tackles
Jamari Lattimore (-2.6 overall, -0.9 run, -1.2 coverage)
A.J. Hawk (-2.5 overall, -2.4 run)
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (-2.0 overall, -1.1 run, -1.0 coverage) with three missed tackles

The defensive line couldn't get off blocks, the linebackers were letting the plays come to them, and the secondary was flat-footed. Clinton-Dix needs to learn how to not dip his head before making a tackle. That's not something a paid professional should have to work on (see what you hit). Micah Hyde is a linebacker in a defensive back's body. He just doesn't look natural when he is asked to go back in pass coverage for an extended period of time. Hopefully Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett will be ready to go by Week 10, because there is a considerable drop-off when they are not around.

Kicker: A+

Mason Crosby took advantage of the indoor elements finishing 3 for 3 on field goals with a long of 49 and was 2 for 2 on extra points. Crosby also averaged 78 yards per kickoff with a hang time of 4.2 seconds.

Punter: N/A

The Ginger Wolverine was too busy solving murder mysteries around the Louisiana Bayou to punt the ball on Sunday night.

Coaching: C

It's hard to blame the coaching when the execution was so utterly poor, but the surprise onside kick off and trick play to Julius Peppers so early in the game were questionable calls, even if they had ended up working.

Up Next: The Packers will take a week off before hosting the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football on November 9th.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com.