GREEN BAY – It’s an enormous task the Packers’ defense is facing.
Not only must it find a way to stop the barrage of big plays that let Sunday night’s game at Washington get out of hand, but also it has to somehow start taking the ball away from the opposition more.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy on Monday called turnover ratio the “A-number one” item his team must alter moving forward.
On the defensive side, that means generating turnovers, when three times during Green Bay’s current four-game losing streak the defense has been shut out.
Changing that is easier said than done, of course, and it’s no easier when those same defenders just succumbed to an onslaught of explosive plays in a span of one quarter on the game clock that turned a 16-10 dogfight into a 42-24 defeat.
So which problem do the Packers go about fixing first? There’s no perfect answer, but McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers would appear to side with turnovers first, because any disruption of the quarterback and opposing offense makes those big plays harder to execute.
“You just keep working at it,” Capers said. “I don’t think anybody spends more time on the practice field working on stripping the ball and intercepting the ball. We know how to do it, we’ve done it for quite a while around here, but we’re not getting it done right now.
“We like to mix and match and try to keep the quarterback to where he doesn’t get into a groove or a rhythm. The quarterback sacks, the pressures, the hurries, all that, the indecision, leads to more takeaways.”
Washington QB Kirk Cousins was in maybe the best groove of his career late in Sunday night’s game.
It started on third-and-11 with 2:07 left in the third quarter, when he hit Jamison Crowder for a 44-yard touchdown, one of nine third-down conversions for the Redskins.
“That’s when kind of all hell broke loose,” Capers said. “Things really flipped from a tight, contested game.”
A 70-yard TD pass, a 53-yard pass on third-and-7, and a 66-yard run – the latter two against blitzes – produced three more scores, and the Redskins rolled up 272 of their 515 yards from the Crowder TD on, over the game’s final 17 minutes.
Equally frustrating was a fourth-and-1 play midway through the fourth quarter, after the Packers had stopped the Redskins on third down. Leading 29-24 at the time, Washington went for it and picked it up on a QB sneak.
“If we make that play, hey, it’s anybody’s ballgame,” Capers said. “We let it get away from us in the fourth quarter by not making our plays and them making their plays. It was a shame, because our offense was coming back and moving the ball.”
Another shame is the injury epidemic that continues to plague Capers’ unit. Cornerback Demetri Goodson has a “significant” knee injury, while linebacker Blake Martinez is also having tests done on his knee.
With Jake Ryan’s status uncertain due to an ankle injury, the Packers could be down to just Joe Thomas and newly promoted Carl Bradford at inside linebacker for next Monday night at Philadelphia.
Capers just got Clay Matthews back at outside linebacker following a three-game absence, and moving him back inside for the third straight season can’t be ruled out. It wouldn’t help the pass rush, which hasn’t held up its end of the bargain either, but the option might have to be on the table.
“We haven’t discussed it yet. That’s what we’ll do first thing tomorrow,” Capers said. “We’ll look at who we think is going to be available and what our alternatives are.”
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