COMMENTARY | Fans of the Packers will probably be surprised to know Green Bay finished second in the league in sacks in 2012.
With defensive playmakers like Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji, why would it be surprising? Well, the answer is that if you watch Green Bay, they aren't a dominating team rushing the passer. They don't generate consistent push, particularly against good offensive lines and when Clay Matthews isn't getting home, this team simply doesn't have an impact pass-rusher outside of him.
When Clay Matthews was hurt, it wasn't surprising to see Green Bay's defense get torched by good offenses like the Giants.
It was evident in last Sunday's game against Minnesota where Christian Ponder was able to find open receivers seemingly at will. In fact, Green Bay is lucky Christian Ponder is Christian Ponder because he missed a number of open receivers on what could have been an even bigger day for the Vikes.
To Green Bay's defense, much of Ponder's success came off of run fakes. Minnesota has this guy Peterson in the backfield, maybe you've heard of him. But even on third-and-long situations where the run game was no factor, the Packers couldn't get pressure.
The Vikings converted half of their 12 third down attempts, a number of them obvious passing situations.
Late in the game, Green Bay had forced a 3rd and 11 and dropped eight defenders in coverage. Casey Hayward committed the cardinal sin of prevent zone coverage, biting on an underneath pump fake and vacated his zone to allow a conversion.
This is still a defense that sacked Jake Locker seven times two weeks ago and sacked Jay Cutler about 30 times in two games. Don't quote me on that number, it could be more.
Dom Capers' schemes have been solid over the latter half of the season. He consistently had players in position to make plays against Minnesota, his guys just didn't come through enough times for him.
Even that flukey tip pass that Jarius Wright caught to set up a touchdown late in the first half should have been easily intercepted by Hayward, but a pile of his own teammates in the area pushed him out of the way. Green Bay had the right call, got a tip and just couldn't finish the play.
The same is true from the first time these two teams met and for much of what has has been a problem all season. It hasn't been the schemes, so much as it has been execution. When this team gets sacks and does generate pressure, it's because players are winning their individual battles, not the game plan.
It's why Green Bay only had 8 interceptions in 2012 after leading the NFL in 2011. Drops and blown coverages have precluded defensive players from coming up with turnovers. The scheme has rarely been an issue (An interesting note: the bottom eight teams in forcing interceptions this season all made the playoffs and six of those eight won their respective divisions).
When Mike Neal gets a sack in a three-man rush against Chicago to basically end the game, that's execution and desire, not scheme.
When Morgan Burnett and Tramon Williams let Adrian Peterson run right by both of them without so much as a finger laid on him, that's execution and desire, not scheme.
Green Bay's blitz packages are confusing, but the players aren't winning their individual battles consistently, at least the players not named Clay Matthews.
Jerel Worthy has been disappointing as a pass-rusher this season, but he's growing into the position and has every physical tool you can ask for. Erik Walden and Dezman Moses just aren't even close to Matthews as impact players and its shown all season.
The Packers were counting on the incredible physical and athletic talents of Nick Perry this season, but a wrist injury has him on IR and without him, there's no impact rusher on this team when Matthews is on the sidelines.
The loss of Desmond Bishop, the team's best inside rusher, has also been huge.
Last Sunday, the Packers had just one sack on Ponder and it was Matthews who got it - even that took a McCarthy challenge to get.
A.J. Hawk's day typifies my point. Play after play, Hawk was reading and reacting properly. He was finding the holes and closing them down, only he couldn't make the tackle. You could see him at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield just about every running play, yet he finished with just 4 tackles. The scheme was right, but he couldn't make the plays.
That's execution and desire.
Last year, Green Bay's defense just wasn't very good. They had no depth on the defensive line or in the secondary. They lacked playmakers in the back end and rushing the quarterback, but this is a better defense. The Packers are 11th in the league in points allowed, 11th in passing yards and 11th in total yards, a far cry from the historically bad defense Green Bay had a season ago.
The scheme isn't significantly different, the players are just playing better. Raji has re-discovered his dominating talents. Matthews has been a force when healthy. Casey Hayward has been a break-out player and should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Sam Shields has come back strong after under-performing a year ago and better depth has kept this defense fresh.
Green Bay will get Charles Woodson back this week, a cog that couldn't be replaced even with the excellent play of Hayward, simply because Woodson is so versatile in run support and as a blitzer. For the first time all season, Green Bay will have nearly every major defensive playmaker healthy and on the field.
The schemes won't change. It doesn't have to. What will have to change if Green Bay wants to play another week is execution and desire.
Peter Bukowski is a Wisconsin transplant living in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime
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