GREEN BAY – It’s no secret what the defense needs to do to become the unit the Packers feels it’s capable of being. The blueprint was laid out since the summer.
It’s going to take big plays, turnovers, sure tackling and an ability to get off the field consistently on third downs.
While the Packers have had their moments in all four of those areas this season, they weren’t able to do enough to keep pace with New Orleans’ high-octane offense down the stretch during Sunday’s 26-17 loss at Lambeau Field.
The Saints, who entered as the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring offense, produced 485 total yards against Green Bay, converting on 8-of-15 third downs and winning the battle for time of possession (36:56-23:04).
“We have to play better,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We have to find a way to get off the field on third down. That hurt us a lot today. We’ll look at the film (Monday) and figure out what we can work on to get better and go from there.”
For all the things that didn’t go Green Bay’s way in the second half, the defense couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start against the Saints.
Cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Davon House each picked off New Orleans’ 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees to end the Saints’ opening two series. Heading into Sunday, Brees had only thrown two picks in his first 183 passes this season.
Randall, who has an interception in each of the Packers’ last three games, halted New Orleans’ opening drive with a pick in Green Bay’s end zone for a touchback before House then pulled in a ball down the sideline intended for Michael Thomas.
House has missed three games this year due to a lingering quad injury, but said he came through fine in his first extended action since the opener against Seattle.
“I played maybe 80 percent, 85 percent, so it was good to know how good I did and was able to play at a high level,” House said. “To know I did that at 85 percent, I’m excited to see what I can bring to the table when I’m 100.”
Green Bay’s defense conceded 225 total yards in the first half, but only gave up seven points on the scoreboard in forcing the Saints to punt twice in the second quarter.
The second half was another story. The Saints scored on the opening series off a 22-yard pass from Brees to receiver Brandon Coleman, and then capped their next two series with Wil Lutz field goals to take a 19-17 lead with 10:21 left in the game.
The Packers, down to one inside linebacker (Blake Martinez), were forced to stay in their sub-packages on a critical series with 8:25 left, which ended with Brees sneaking in a 1-yard touchdown to pull ahead by two scores.
The one-two backfield punch of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara produced 217 total yards, with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. leading the Saints with seven catches for 141 yards.
“The first half I thought we got after them pretty well,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had three tackles (one for a loss). “But unfortunately in the second half, it was night and day. We obviously didn't hold up our end of the bargain and gave up way too many big plays.
“It was just simple mistakes that they took advantage of when you have guys like their quarterback and running back. It was just too much, too much.”
Green Bay’s defense has notched four turnovers in the opening quarter of the last two games, but it has struggled to consistently find stops and turnovers in its last two losses.
The loss leaves a bitter taste in the Packers’ mouth going into the bye week, though it will give the defense a chance to get healthier.
Along with having four of their five cornerbacks listed on the injury report, the Packers played without safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring) and linebackers Joe Thomas (ankle) and Ahmad Brooks (back).
“I’m feeling the heat from the locker room, I think we’re ready to get out there and play again,” Clinton-Dix said. “I wish we didn’t have this bye week right now. But it’s a chance for a couple guys who played through some injuries today – I was happy and excited for a lot of guys to come off the injury report. They fought through injuries today and came up short.”
Inside linebacker Blake Martinez finished Sunday as the NFC leader in combined tackles (63) after recording a career-high 15 (12 solo) against the Saints. Tackling machine:
The Packers needed every one of them with Thomas unavailable and Ryan leaving in the second half with a migraine.
Still, the production served as little consolation for the Packers’ second-year linebacker.
“Overall, it’s a team game,” Martinez said. “I couldn’t care less about my stats or anything. As long as we’re winning, I’m going to be happy. If we’re not, I need to do more. At this point, it’s not good enough and I think I need to step it up as I move forward.”
Twin tackles: While the Packers were without starting left guard Lane Taylor (ankle), they did have both of their starting tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, protecting Brett Hundley during his first NFL start at quarterback. Hundley was sacked only once.
Bakhtiari missed four games with a hamstring injury, while Bulaga sat out two contests with a bum ankle before leaving last Sunday against Minnesota with a concussion.
“We're going to have to come together (because), at the end of the day, it's (about) finding a way to win,” Bakhtiari said. “Nobody's happy with the loss, but I'm definitely proud of (Hundley). He's only going to get better. Game experience isn't easy to come by, and you can't really put a price tag on it. For him to get those priceless reps and experience moving forward will really make him better.”
Despite the Saints scoring on the opening series of the second half, the Packers managed to hold onto a slim 14-13 lead after defensive tackle Kenny Clark blocked Lutz’s extra point. First for everything:
Clark said it’s the first time in his football career he’s ever blocked a field goal.
“Me, Dean (Lowry) and ‘Q’ (Quinton Dial) got good pressure on the guard,” said Clark, who had five tackles and a quarterback hit. “Just looking at the scouting report and knowing where to attack and got a good block on it.”
Complete game coverage: