The Green Bay Packers defense was exposed by the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The NFL’s second-ranked unit fell apart against the vaunted Cardinals passing attack, much the same way they did three weeks earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s now pretty clear why these things have happened. The middle of the Packers defense if vulnerable and the depth in their defensive backfield is more than suspect.
Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner was nearly perfect on Sunday, going 29-of-33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns. On Dec. 20, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger carved up the Packers for 503 yards and three touchdowns. Both teams were able to shred the Packers defense by forcing them into their nickel and dime packages, spreading the field and throwing the ball to the middle.
According to ESPN, Warner completed 21 of his passes and tossed all five touchdowns in the middle of the field. All of this was accomplished without the Cardinals No. 2 receiver, Anquan Boldin, who was out with an ankle injury.
The first problem the Packers couldn’t overcome was their linebackers were consistently matched up on receivers. Both Arizona and Pittsburgh often broke their receivers to the middle of the field off the line of scrimmage. The way the Packers were defending often left receivers matched up with linebackers instead of cornerbacks, a matchup which substantially favors the offense. So, when you saw Nick Barnett or A.J. Hawk getting burned by Steve Breaston or Santonio Holmes, that’s why.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just defenders getting beaten by faster players. There were also plenty of missed assignments. Barnett in particular blew several on Sunday.
The Packers inability to play the pass also made their pass rush completely ineffective. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers rushed four most of the game because the team was playing so much nickel and dime. The result produced only one sack on the day.
In part, Capers didn’t adjust well enough to what the Cardinals were doing. In part, he didn’t have the personnel to do so, which brings me to the second point – defensive backfield depth, or lack there of.
Certainly you can point the finger at the inside linebackers, particularly Barnett and Hawk, who has no business being on the field against a passing team, but the Packers have some real issues in the secondary.
Behind starters Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Nick Collins and Atari Bigby, the Packers are simply terrible. With the possible exception of the injured Derrick Martin, I’d be hard pressed to say the Packers have a serviceable defensive back on their active roster.
As we’ve documented time and time again, nickel back Jarrett Bush is atrocious. On Sunday, he was consistently beaten by a never-will-be named Early Doucet, who had one touchdown in his professional career. Doucet had six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers. Behind Bush is Josh Bell, who gave up the winning touchdown to the Steelers Mike Wallace in December, and rookie Brandon Underwood, who made no impact.
At safety, the Packers were forced to insert Matt Giordano after Bigby went down with an injury. You probably saw a lot of Giordano on Sunday because seemingly every time the Cardinals scored, he was the guy running into the picture too late to do anything about it.
Sure, the Packers will get Al Harris back next season and maybe Pat Lee and Will Blackmon can contribute if they can be bothered to stay off injured reserve for once, but the Packers have three players in the secondary at the end of their contract – Williams, Collins and Bigby.
Even if the Packers resign all three, they still need to make a major upgrade in the secondary, and possibly the linebacking corp, or they’re going to continue to get torched by great passing teams.