Okay, now we can say the Green Bay Packers’ defense is devastated by injury.
Wednesday, we learned that outside linebacker Brad Jones’ season is indeed over. Jones has been placed on injured reserve and will undergo surgery on his damaged shoulder. The injury initially occurred in camp and was apparently significantly re-injured in Sunday night’s win over Minnesota.
Jones is the 10th Packer to go on I.R. this season. Six of those players – Jones, Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, Mike Neal, Brady Poppinga and Justin Harrell – were expected to be at least somewhat significant contributors for that unit in 2010. And don’t forget Brandon Chillar, Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett, Clay Matthews – my God this list is long – Nick Collins and Charles Woodson. Every single one of those players has either missed time, will miss time or been at least semi-affected by injury.
Oh, by the way – Al Harris and Atari Bigby still haven’t been activated from the PUP list yet. With the Packers quickly signing (or claiming off waivers) four defensive players this week – three linebackers and a defensive tackle – you have to wonder just where those two are at in the recovery process. I have a bad feeling that it could be awhile until either of those two are on the 53-man roster. Like, “after the bye week” bad.
Yet, through all of this, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has somehow, someway, managed to keep Green Bay in the middle of the pack (no pun intended) on that side of the ball. The Packers are tied with New England for 16th with 136 points allowed, 19.4 per game. Green Bay is also 18th in total yards per game allowed (338.4). Now, I can’t say I’ve studied the numbers/performance of every defense he’s ever led, but one has to think this seven-game stretch is one of the best coaching jobs he’s ever turned in.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m not sure Capers can keep this up much longer. That’s not to question his smarts, because we know he has those in abundance. I’m not sure any defensive mind could keep this up. The depth is just so paper-thin. And, who knows if the injuries will ever stop for the defense? What happens if a crucial piece – say Matthews, Tramon Williams, Collins or Woodson – gets hit with a season-ender?
But, as always, I’m not going to paint a picture of a totally baren landscape. There’s hope for this defense – and it lies in an unexpected place.
The other side of the ball.
After seven games of fits, starts, heat, cool, north and south, the time for Green Bay’s offense to become the monster we all thought it could is now. That group simply can not turn in any more uneven performances if the Packers are to make this season a special one.
The biggest thing that must now happen is an honest-to-God dedication to dominating the time of possession. Seven games in, the Packers stand just 17th in average T.O.P. at 30:06 per game. The New York Giants lead the league in this category at 33:23 per game. Doesn’t seem like much, on the surface, but as we’ve learned this season, 3:17 can be a lifetime, especially if you’re playing with a battered defense. Imagine an extra three minutes-plus in Green Bay’s favor against Miami. Or Washington.
In order to boost those T.O.P. numbers, a re-tooling of Mike McCarthy’s approach to gameplanning is in order. Stubborn as he is, you might think this impossible. But, actually, it’s not. McCarthy took some fairly major steps in this direction against the Vikings, showing more dedication to the run game than at any previous point this season. In his Wednesday presser, McCarthy hinted that we’ll see more Brandon Jackson this Sunday against the New York Jets.
Whether it works this week or not, it’s something he needs to go with the rest of the way. Jackson has shown some flashes of real potential. He won’t likely overwhelm anyone with his size, speed or toughness, but has just enough of each quality to make him intriguing (and his vision’s not bad, either). Like all backs, he’ll only get better as the carries pile up. And Bryan Bulaga’s emergence at right tackle gives Green Bay a solid side of the line to rush off of as Bulaga and Josh Sitton are both quick, tough and nasty run blockers.
The passing game, Mike Mac’s pride and joy, must also be re-worked. Simply put, this team continues to chase the home run ball far more often than is necessary. It’s killing drives and causing turnovers. Considering how far Aaron Rodgers and his receivers appear to be off in the chemistry department, it’s surprising how many deep shots this offense continues to take. Those are low-percentage throws and do nothing to get things back in-synch. If you were a basketball player, would you continue to chuck threes up on a cold shooting night? You’d try for as many layups as possible to get yourself back into a rhythm, right?
For the Packers, these layups consist of throws within the six-to-15 yard range. This offense lived there during last season’s 7-1 finish to the regular season. And when things were looking bleak in the wild card game, how did the offense get itself back on track? Exactly.
Somewhere between the wild card loss and the start of the 2010 season, the Packers became convinced that a passing attack can only be considered great if it goes shotgun, five-wide and racks up 25 yards on every dropback. That just isn’t true (see: the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s). Look at golf, for example. Any pro can step up to the tee and crush it. The great ones separate themselves through the short game.
Getting back to that 7-1 mindset puts the ball in the hands of your playmakers quicker, thus allowing them to do what they do quicker. This approach makes for plays that, while not as sexy as the home run ball (something Rodgers seems way too preoccupied with, anyways), can be run in higher quantity. More plays equals more time of possession and a tired opposing defense.
By re-dedicating themselves to the little things – more handoffs here and more seven-yard throws there – the Packers can fully utilize the considerable talent they have on offense, even without Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant.
For a defense that becomes exponentially less considerable in the talent department seemingly by the day, it’s the least they can do.