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Saturday, October 29, 2005

What I believe about Defense

by Mark Quarderer

There are some things about defense that I believe are true, regardless of what team or what level you're talking about. Chief among these are:

You must stop the run. If you don't stop the run, nothing else is really going to matter very much. Your pass rush isn't going to be able to help you if teams never pass. Your secondary isn't going to make any plays for you if they keep it on the ground. Your offense isn't going to be able to bail you out if they're on the sideline watching the clock...and the chains....move. You simply have to stop the run; there isn't any alternative.

I'm aware that there are isolated cases of teams that aren't very good against the run who've had some success, most recently Philadelphia, but these are exceptions and not the rule and I always think that an argument that's based on the exception is not as strong as one based on the rule.

In this area, the 2005 Packer defense is doing well. They're yielding a miserly 3.4 yards/rush which is good for a #5 league ranking. This is a pleasant surprise and if the Packers can continue being successful in this area it'll give us something to feel good about during what is going to be an unpleasant off-season.

You are only as strong as your weakest link. If Reggie White is your defensive end, and Bhawoh Jue is your safety, your defense isn't as strong as Reggie White; it's as weak as Bhawoh Jue. If you have three Pro Bowlers in your secondary and Ahmad Carroll, then teams are going to go after Ahmad Carroll and that's how strong your defense is. You improve your defense by upgrading weak links. Last year, we had a number of weak links, particularly in the secondary. We got rid of a number of weak links in the offseason: Sharper, Hunt, Jue, Hawthorne, Lee. And as a result we aren't giving up so many huge plays as we did. But there are still some weak links on this team that are going to need to be addressed. Our linebacking corps doesn't look like they have any playmakers and our nickel and dime backs aren't helping us get off the field. This is an area we'll need to upgrade in order to be a top defense.

Most drives will stop themselves....if you just give them the chance. Seriously, there's a lot of things which will kill a drive: A missed block, a bad throw, a dropped pass, a penalty. And this is without any help from the defense. But if your defense keeps the other team on the field by committing penalties and failing to do the deed on third down then you are just breathing life into your opponent

The Packers are very much average in this regard by permitting opponents to convert 39.2% of their third downs. But only four teams in the league have fewer defensive penalties than the Packers at this point.

Coverage is more important than pressure. For as long as I've been associating with Packer fan boards, people have bitched about our pass rush, even in years when we had a pretty good one. Last year, for example, our 40 sacks put us in 10th place, only 8 sacks behind the league leader. IOW, just a half-sack a game more and we'd have had the best pass rush in the league----statistically. And this despite having a secondary that couldn't cover my grandma.

The reality is that sacks have been declining league-wide in recent years as blocking schemes have become more sophisticated and tackles have become more massive and more skilled. A good offensive tackle can pretty much neutralize those speedy edge rushers, as Packer fans should well know. Clifton and Tauscher routinely neutralize good DEs; KGB routinely disappears against quality tackles.

No, your best hope is to keep people covered long enough for your defensive line to get a good four man push and collapse the pocket. Eventually the QB either has to run or throw it to somebody who is covered.

So far this year, the Packers rank right in the middle of the league with 15 sacks tying them with three other teams. But our coverage is an area that's going to need some improvement. We're allowing opponents to complete over 60% of their passes against us, which is below the league average and we're 25th in the league in yards/attempt average.

There's a lot of places to put the blame for this: Our linebackers haven't been able to contain TEs or cover backs out of the backfield and our nickel and dime backs have looked like weak links. When Collins went out with an injury in the second half our secondary was exposed and shredded. I think the Packers are going to have to upgrade their nickel and dime backs in the offseason because it just doesn't look like the guys that are out there...usually Thomas, sometimes Underwood or Horton....or even Hawkins.....aren't helping us get off the field when we get teams in third and long.

The best defense is a good offense that can control the ball, eat the clock, and put points on the board to put pressure on the opponent. I think we're going to have a lot of trouble this year from here on out in this regard.

Over half the points that have been scored on the Packers so far this year have followed a turnover or a three and out, because both help create short fields for the opponent. When the Packers have had a long field to defend they've done pretty well. Last week, in our collapse against Minnesota, our offense went three and out, missed field goal (which is pretty much the same as a fumble, field position and momentum-wise) and another three and out. And Minnesota scored after every one.

I think the Packer defense is in for a rugged couple of weeks and we'll find ourselves declining in several statistical categories, especially scoring and total defense. But take heart in how we do against the run, and how well we get off the field after third down, because this team needs to establish something it can build on for next year.

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