The Packers are setting records on offense and special teams, but defense has lagged this season and it was easy to detect the concern in Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers’ voice on Monday.
“We’re not where we want to be. The bye comes at a good time for us on the defense,” Capers told reporters.
The problem on defense has been two-fold: too many yards and big plays allowed. In the Metrodome on Sunday, another problem surfaced: too many yards (175) rushing by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
“Normally, it’s a little breakdown here or there,” Capers said of the big plays the Packers are allowing. “We knew Peterson could make you look bad, especially on that turf.”
Seven games into the season, the Packers are 27th in the league in total defense; ninth against the run and a shocking 31st against the pass. It’s shocking because the Packers were No. 5 against the pass and No. 5 in total defense last season. They were also third in sacks per pass play; currently, the Packers are 17th in sacks per pass play.
“We’d probably like for it to be better,” Capers said of the pass-rush, “but we’d like for our pass-coverage to be better.”
“It’s an area of emphasis,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of the defense. “Defensively, we’re giving up too many big plays. That’s the bottom line. We’re No. 1 in the league in takeaways, but we’re giving up too many big plays.”
Can they get back to being the dominant defense that they were a year ago?
“I don’t know about comparing it to last year, but I do feel we can get better,” Capers said.
Capers adopted a new statistical comparison last season: passer rating differential. Currently, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is at a league-leading 125.7, while the Packers defense has reduced opposing quarterbacks to a 79.3 rating. That’s a rating differential of more than 46 points, and that’s been a formula for victory seven times in seven games.
“As long as our quarterback keeps playing the way he is, if we can keep our quarterback rating down in the 70s, that’s a winning formula for us,” Capers said.
On special teams, the winning formula has been a perfect field goal percentage (14 of 14) for kicker Mason Crosby, who is also tied for second place in the league in touchbacks, 24. Crosby is having a career year and he booted a franchise-record, 58-yard field goal in the win over the Vikings on Sunday.
The only negative for Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum on Sunday was a fumbled punt by rookie returner Randall Cobb. The fumble led to a Vikings touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
“Very high, short punt,” Slocum said in describing Cobb’s error. “He should’ve made a decision to fair-catch that more quickly. It probably would’ve opened up the window a little more for him.”
“I don’t think he’s struggling,” Slocum added of Cobb, who is fourth in the league in kickoff returns.
Finally, Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said he’d like his unit to reduce penalties and sacks, but it’s difficult to sell the idea of needed improvement for a unit with the league’s top-rated passer, who also leads the league in touchdown passes, and the league’s fourth-ranked receptions leader in Greg Jennings. Oh, and on Sunday the Packers’ running game came to life at crunch time and sealed the deal when James Starks carried six times to expire the final 2:30 of the game.
“There was nothing magical about the scheme. They had plenty of guys close to the football,” Philbin said.
It has, in nearly all other ways, been a magical year for the Packers, at least up to the bye week. Additional coverage - Oct. 24