How Should We Feel About the Packers Defense?

Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (32) is brought down by Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) and linebacker Quay Walker (7) in the third quarter during their football game Sunday, September 18, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinApc Packvsbears 0918221499djp
Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (32) is brought down by Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) and linebacker Quay Walker (7) in the third quarter during their football game Sunday, September 18, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinApc Packvsbears 0918221499djp /

Through four weeks in the NFL season, the Green Bay Packers haven’t been overly impressive.

A 3-1 record including two wins by a field goal or less in as many games has put the Packers in a good position to compete for the NFC’s top seed as the season stretches on.

Yes, the offense has been less than stellar, and that is probably a compliment, but that was expected. The defense was the unit that was expected to burst on the scene as a top unit in football.

How has the Packers defense fared through four games?

On the surface the Packers defense has been stellar. Fifth in yards per game, 3rd in passing yards per game, eighth in points per game and the best defense in the league on third down, allowing less that 25 percent. All very good.

They also are tied for fifth with 11.0 sacks on the year with Rashan Gary (5.0) trailing Alex Highsmith by only a half-sack for the league lead.

But even with all of that, I feel that the Packers defense has left a lot to be desired.

Part of that is due to the first two quarters of the season which were a struggle to say the least for Joe Barry’s unit.

The Packers defense gave up 257 yards in the first half to the Vikings including 158 yards and both of the Vikings touchdowns to Justin Jefferson.

The most frustrating part of it all is that it felt like everyone but Barry and the Packers defense knew that the ball was going to Jefferson. He finished with nine catches for 184 yards and the two touchdowns, with five of his catches going for 20 yards or more. They kept Jefferson contained in the second half but the damage had been done.

They rebounded with a solid performance against the Chicago Bears in week two, but they still had their issues.

They gave up just 10 points, held Justin Fields to only 70 yards passing and Jaire Alexander got a late interception to seal the game. They also were able to make a good fourth down stop on the goal-line, even though I think the ball was in, fate was on the Packers side with the officials not being able to overturn the call on the field of a stop.

But the run defense was a huge issue, and I worry that if the Bears would have stayed with the run, this game could have been too close for comfort.

The Bears has 180 yards on the ground, which looking at it now isn’t too bad as their season average is 177.3 per game. But the yards per carry is a huge concern.

As a team they had 6.7 yards per carry, but the average is heavily weighed down by Fields’ eight attempts for 20 yards, 2.5 yards per carry. Khalil Herbert had four carries for 38 yards (9.5 per) and David Montgomery had a whopping 15 carries for 122 yards (8.1 per). That 8.4 yards per carry by the running backs. Unacceptable.

Ultimately the pressure, that led to some of Fields’ scrambles, and one of Preston Smith’s best performances as a Packer made it the least stressful game of the season.

The game against Tampa Bay might have been the most dominant showing I have seen in a while from Green Bay’s defense.

Giving up one touchdown and two field goals, with one being made possible because of a bad Aaron Rodgers interception at midfield, against Tom Brady regardless of his receiving corps, is pretty darn impressive.

Kudos to Joe Barry and even more to De’Vondre Campbell who had the game-saving pass-break-up on the two-point conversion. Props to Darnell Savage as well because if Campbell wouldn’t have broken it up he would have because he had fantastic coverage on Russell Gage.

That brings us to the most recent performance against the Patriots and really I don’t entirely know what to make of this game.

They gave up 14 points to Bailey Zappe, the third string quarterback who was filling in for Brian Hoyer, who left the game with an injury on the second drive after being sacked by Rashan Gary. Hoyer was of course filling in for Mac Jones who got hurt on the last play of last weeks game.

Zappe threw the ball 15 times the whole game, so he was not much of a threat which means the Packers should have ben able to shut down the Patriots running game.

They didn’t. 33 carries. 167 yards. 5.1 yards per carry. Yuck.

The story of the game for them though was the fact that the Packers offense and special teams kept putting them in bad situations.

Rodgers threw only the fourth pick-six of his career and the Packers went into the half down by three and New England’s return men had 160 return yards. Not great.

But the defense ultimately came up clutch forcing three and outs on the Patriots last three drives, including in overtime, where New England started at midfield.

And seeing those stops made me feel pretty good but really throughout the year they have lacked in a few different places.

They have only forced four turnovers all year long, with only four teams have less takeaways so far this year.

The other thing that hasn’t been great is their play at the beginning and end of halves.

The Packers have given up 69 points all year long, 20 points have come on the opening drive of the game and another 10 points on the opening drive of the second half.

Yards wise they have been getting shredded in those times during games.

Vikings game:

  • First drive of game: 10 plays, 78 yards, touchdown
  • “Last” drive of first half: seven plays, 74 yards, touchdown
    • Got ball back with 27 seconds left after a Rodgers interception and punted
  • First drive of second half: four plays, -5 yards, field goal (Rodgers fumble)
  • Last drive of game: seven plays, 34 yards, punt

Bears game:

  • First drive of game: seven plays, 71 yards, TD
  • “Last” drive of half: three plays, four yards, punt
    • Followed by one play to run out half after Packers touchdown
  • First drive of second half: three plays, seven yards, punt
  • “Last” drive of game: 13 plays, 89 yards, turnover-on-downs at goal line
    • Threw interception with about two minutes left

Buccaneers game:

  • First drive of game: 10 plays, 48 yards, FG
  • “Last” drive of first half: six plays, 54 yards, fumble when entering field goal range
    • Kneeled it out after Packers punt
  • First drive of second half: five plays, 29 yards, fumble
  • Last drive of game: 12 plays, 89 yards, touchdown and failed two-point conversion

Patriots game:

  • First drive of game: 10 plays, 56 yards, field goal
  • Last drive of first half: six plays, 19 yards, fumble
  • First drive of second half: seven plays, 75 yards, touchdown
  • Last drive of game: three plays, five yards, punt

So in these 16 situational drives, the Packers gave up 43 points and 727 yards, nearly 2/3 of their season totals. They also only forced three punts on such drives.

But the good news, all four of their takeaways have come in these situations. And other good news, they have been close to flawless the rest of the game.

If the Packers can really figure out their beginning and end of half struggles, they could have one of the most suffocating units in all of football.

They have a legit secondary, linebackers who can cover ground and may become a top tandem in the league, and two fantastic edge rushers including a dark horse Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Gary.

But until the beginning and end of half wrinkles are ironed out, Joe Barry and the defensive staff will be under my microscope.