The issue of defensive communication hasn’t come up much since Head Coach Mike McCarthy switched schemes and coordinators heading into 2009, but McCarthy pointed to that as the defensive downfall on Sunday in San Diego.
In compiling 460 total yards, the Chargers several times had receivers running free in the secondary, particularly in the fourth quarter when receiver Vincent Jackson caught two touchdown passes with hardly a defender around him.
“We had a number of communication errors that resulted in players put in bad positions, bad situations, and the Chargers took advantage of it,” McCarthy said on Monday, emphasizing that communication would be the “No. 1 topic of conversation” when the players return to work on Tuesday.
San Diego recorded seven “explosive” plays of 20-plus yards, a disturbing trend for Green Bay’s defense this season, and McCarthy said the team’s overall game operation, from substitutions to getting plays in from the sidelines, wasn’t “clean.”
“We’ve been talking about communication too much the last couple weeks and we have to do a better job,” he said. “It starts with the coaches, and it starts with me.”
The defense did come through on the Chargers’ final two possessions to preserve the win, continuing the unit’s season-long success in make-or-break situations.
The team needed those stops because the last two possessions were the only times the Green Bay offense was effectively stalled.
McCarthy noted the Packers scored 31 points on just 56 offensive snaps, which included scoring five times (four TDs, one FG) on their first six drives.
Another ultra-efficient performance by Aaron Rodgers has the quarterback, at the mathematical midpoint of the season, on pace to break the NFL single-season records for completion percentage at 72.5 (Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson, 70.55 in 1982), quarterback rating at 129.1 (Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning, 121.1 in 2004) and passing yards with 2,619 through eight games (Miami’s Dan Marino, 5,084 in 1984).
New England’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees are on pace to break Marino’s yardage record, too, but with four TD passes on Sunday, Rodgers now has 24 and is the only one off the pace Brady’s mark of 50, set in 2007.
Of all the impressive numbers, though, the one Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin likes the best is the smallest – Rodgers’ three interceptions.
“That’s definitely the No. 1 thing, taking care of the football,” Philbin said. “We all know he’s an accurate passer, we all know he throws the ball well on the move, we all know about his arm strength. We’ve been watching that for a long time.
“When you throw the ball as often as we do, you have to take great care of the football.”
Rodgers also displayed a side of his game on Sunday he hasn’t employed much in 2011, and that’s his scrambling ability. He ran eight times for 52 yards, including a season-long 25-yard scamper. He was sacked four times and avoided two others by getting back across the line of scrimmage for one-yard gains.
McCarthy said the Chargers were devoting a lot of personnel to pass coverage, playing man-to-man with safety help deep. That left a lot of voids into which Rodgers could run, something McCarthy doesn’t mind seeing him do.
“Absolutely I don’t mind,” McCarthy said. “When he runs out there and nobody’s there, that’s a positive. It’s good defensive recognition on Aaron’s part and just taking advantage of how they were playing our receivers.”
Jordy Nelson was the most productive of Green Bay’s receivers, with five catches for 105 yards, including a 64-yard gain to set up the Packers’ final touchdown.
Moments later, Nelson unfortunately wasn’t able to corral San Diego’s onside kick that fueled the Chargers’ rally, but Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum said it wasn’t entirely Nelson’s fault.
Tight end Ryan Taylor was lined up in front of Nelson, and he tried to field Nick Novak’s hard, low onside kick rather than sidestep it and rush forward to block for Nelson. The ball went through Taylor’s legs and then hopped up at the last moment on Nelson, who swatted at it but the Chargers recovered.
“He should have blocked,” Slocum said, referring to Taylor, “and Jordy would have had clean vision on the ball to react to the bounce. He didn’t have that so he tried to knock it out of bounds, which I thought was heads-up on his part.”
Injury update: McCarthy said defensive end Mike Neal, who hasn’t played this season due to a knee injury sustained in training camp, is scheduled to return to the practice field on Thursday. McCarthy did not specify how long it might be before Neal is ready to play in a game.
Outside linebacker Frank Zombo’s hamstring injury from Sunday’s game will likely keep him out of this week’s game against the Vikings, McCarthy said. Additional coverage - Nov. 7