At first, it sounded like the typically cliché postseason comment.
“None of the stats really matter in the playoffs,” Packers inside linebacker Desmond Bishop said, when asked repeatedly about the Packers’ 32nd ranking in yards allowed during the regular season. “It’s a totally new season.”
They’re called clichés, of course, because they’re true, and Bishop also had the proof. All he had to do was look back at last weekend’s games.
He pointed out that the Giants entered the playoffs ranked 32nd in the league in rushing offense, and then pounded out 172 yards on the ground in their wild-card win over Atlanta.
He also made a brief reference to the Steelers and their defense, which came into the playoffs on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Packers’. Pittsburgh was ranked first in yards allowed at 271.8 per game, and then was gashed for 447 yards in a wild-card overtime loss to Denver.
“You definitely can change,” Bishop said.
As their postseason begins on Sunday, the Packers would love to change from hemorrhaging yards at the league-worst rate they did most of the season. They showed flashes of being the sound, stout unit they were during last year’s playoff run a few times in 2011 – in Atlanta in Week 5, at home against Minnesota in Week 10 and at Detroit on Thanksgiving, most notably.
But far too often that wasn’t the case. That 447 yards the Steelers allowed last week was precisely how many the Packers allowed the Giants in the teams’ first meeting this season, one of 10 times Green Bay surrendered more than 420 in a game.
“This is a fresh shot for us to right all our wrongs,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “We’re excited about it. It’s the same group that did it last year, the same team. We know it’s there to do it, we just have to do it. Time is running out. This is one and done, so we have to get it done.”
Getting it done against the Giants will start with denying the big play. That’s been the Packers’ Achilles heel on defense. Explosive gains more often than not have led to scores, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning led the league this season in pass plays longer than 40 yards. Manning connected on pass plays of 67, 51 and 42 yards in the first meeting between the Packers and Giants.
“We’ve been able to identify it all year long,” linebacker Clay Matthews said of the problems on big plays. “It’s just about making those corrections and implementing it in the game. We haven’t been that successful, so we need to do that.
“We have to. It’s win or go home. We understand the magnitude of the game.”
The Packers also understand that preventing big plays will give their defense more chances to do what it does best, which is take the ball away. In that respect, the Packers can’t afford to change in the postseason.
The defense led the league in interceptions and tied for the league lead in total turnovers, but it’s a lot harder to take the ball away when the opposing offense doesn’t need as many snaps to move down the field.
In those “other” eight possessions in the first Giants game, New York had just one play longer than 18 yards, and the Packers created two turnovers – an interception and a sack-fumble, both by Matthews. The pick was returned for a touchdown, and the fumble, recovered by teammate B.J. Raji, led to a field-goal try at the end of the first half.
“Giving the ball back to our offense the way they’re scoring, we need to continue that trend,” Matthews said.
For all of the defense’s struggles, starting strong at home has been a positive trend. Five times at Lambeau Field this season the defense has held the opponent scoreless until the offense has built at least a two-touchdown lead. Two other times, the early leads have been 21-3 and 14-3.
“You expect to play your best defense at home,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “You’re on your own turf, you’ve got the crowd behind you. It’s really part of the home-field advantage.”
That said, McCarthy on Friday was as dismissive of his team’s No. 32 defensive ranking as he was of its 15-1 record, as far as what both statistics will mean come Sunday. The message has been heard.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bishop said. “It’s the playoffs.” Additional coverage - Jan. 13