Last year, the Green Bay Packers never trailed by more than three points the entire season. Even early on, when they seemed to struggle to find a rhythm, they still kept it together long enough to keep games close. The six 2010 Packer losses, all told, were by a combined total of 20 points. This year, while still winning the football games, the Packer defense is getting lit up like a Christmas tree every weekend. You can look at stats for the first four games, trace your finger over to the receiving numbers for the other team and feel your blood pressure start to creep up. Despite an early spurt, the Packers did a good job defending Matt Ryan (or was it Ryan who did it to himself?), holding Mr. Ice to only 167 yards. But watch those first two Falcon drives and you have to ask yourself: What is going on here?
I haven’t heard anyone propose a satisfactory explanation to that question, so I’m going to give you mine: It all traces back to Cullen Jenkins. The departed free agent was very good at getting push up the middle. I’m not knocking Wynn, Raji and Pickett: They tie up the line of scrimmage like nobody’s business. But for collapsing a pocket, you just couldn’t beat Jenkins. That vital push up the middle normally would be driving the quarterbacks into the waiting arms of Clay Matthews, so the sacks aren’t happening. If the quarterback can hang in the pocket, he can wait for the patterns to develop and his receivers to come open, creating more opportunities. With Nick Collins gone and Tramon Williams dinged up, Charles Woodson has to play a more traditional corner role, which means less disruption for opposing teams, leading to more completions and more yards.
Until the Packers can find a way to bring the pressure from their defensive line, big yards will be put up by opposing QB’s. Lucky for us, that defense still has big playmakers and they are still great at snuffing out scoring opportunities. Will we care, in February, that the Packers D gave up more yards than any team in the history of the NFL if our season ends with another trophy? We will not. But it is still going to smart a bit while it’s happening.