It was somewhat lost in the subtlety of its delivery, but make no mistake, the challenge was there.
“I’m fully confident we’re going to play championship defense down the stretch,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday, when asked his opinion of his team’s defense, which continued its season-long struggles by allowing 447 yards to the Giants last Sunday.
If defense does, in fact, win championships – there is increasing evidence those days are behind us – then the Packers need to fix at least one major component of their defense: Stop allowing big plays.
They allowed big plays again last Sunday, having been torched for pass plays of 67, 51 and 42 yards. If they could eliminate nothing more than the big plays they’re allowing on defense, the unit’s overall rank would improve significantly from its current No. 31 ranking.
“We’re looking at five plays a game we have to win instead of lose,” McCarthy said.
It must also be acknowledged that the Packers are making a lot of big, game-changing plays on defense, but what if that stops? Can they count on doing that against playoff-caliber competition in the postseason? What if the positive big plays stop but the negative big plays don’t?
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers has four games to reverse his unit’s trend. He has a month to whip his defense into postseason shape, which is to say into a unit that gets off the field on third down and limits the opponent’s yardage and possession time. That’s playoff defense.
Though this Sunday’s opponent doesn’t appear on paper to be a threat to the Packers’ unblemished record, there is the matter of that number “four” in the rush-offense category. The Oakland Raiders don’t do the trendy things well, but they run the ball and they have a fierce kicking game, and that’s been a time-honored formula for playoff success.
The Raiders are the perfect opponent for the Packers, which is to say the perfect opponent for a team that’s already clinched a playoff berth and now needs to tailor its game for postseason success. The Packers need to know they can stop the run, which they did early in the season but haven’t done nearly as well of late, and they need to know they have a defense that can change its ways and take its play to a higher level, the “championship” level.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Raiders:
1. Win the battle of the line of scrimmage—That’s another way of saying stop the run, which begins with defenders defeating blocks. The Packers’ defensive front did not do that often enough against the Giants.
2. Be efficient on offense—A running team such as the Raiders can limit possessions and plays in a game. The Packers must not be wasteful.
3. Be physical—This is not the time in the season to become finesse.
4. Respect field position—Raiders punter Shane Lechler is the Ray Guy of his time. He forces opponents to play the field-position game, lest they find themselves playing from deep in their own territory all day.
5. Be ready—Because it sounds as though the Raiders will.
6. Get help deep—The Raiders have no doubt seen the Packers’ penchant for allowing big plays, and the Raiders’ receivers have the speed to get deep and Raiders football has always been about throwing deep.
7. Tackle—High-tackling and arm-tackling won’t work against Michael Bush. Bush makes you use your shoulder pads.
8. Block Seymour—He can still be disruptive and when his motor is revving, look out.
9. Run the ball a little—The Raiders are 28th in run-defense. To not run it against the Raiders is to leave yardage on the field.
10. Stop the drops—They were contagious last Sunday. Additional coverage - Dec. 8