First off some disclaimers: Yes it was only one play in a meaningless pre-season game and no it’s not necessarily an indicator of how the Packer’s defense will perform this season, but I did find it funny that Caper’s decided to send out his starting defense for an adversity challenge and they managed to fail so spectacularly.
Now I know I shouldn’t find if funny because a talented Packer’s team has been largely held back from reaching its full potential over the last several seasons due to the inability of the defense to handle adversity. Big games, tight spots, coming off turnovers, one stop to save the season, name almost any adversity you can imagine and it is more likely than not that the defense came up small when the opportunity presented itself. I found it funny, because it just seemed ironic to me that after an off-season of: “more personnel, less scheme”, and “put it in big letters the DEFENSE WILL BE BETTER” that the first adversity play, produced the same result we have come to know and hate.
When I saw the play live I was sure the primary person responsible for the failure was Brad Jones. While the play was in progress I saw Jones running up his own defensive lines backside even while a HUGE hole was opening to his immediate right. Now after reviewing the play several times, and reading from people who know more about football than me, I am still convinced that Jones and his complete lack of instinct was a primary failure point – but not the only failure.
Pepper’s, playing his first ever game at outside linebacker, did charge up the field too far. But in my mind his job was to protect and set the edge, which he did. However, I guess he could be partly to blame. Mike Daniels seems to shoulder more of the blame. Instead of closing his gap, he drove the defender inside, in effect making the block for the offense. If Daniels would have covered his gap, Jones would have been in a perfect spot to fill his gap and stuff the run.
In spite of this I still feel Jones was the weakest link. Why? Mainly because Daniels can’t see what Jones is doing, but Jones can see what Daniels is doing. With just a bit of football instinct Jones should have realized Daniels had destroyed the possibility of an inside run and redirected to fill the resulting gaping hole.
So where does the Packers defense go from here? I would say a good start would be to recognize their limitations and work with them. Their problem is that they have an inside linebacker who has limited inside linebacker smarts. One way to address it is for the guys in front of Jones, to play disciplined gap control defense and funnel plays to his gap since that’s most likely where he’s going to be regardless of what is playing out in front of him. Another way would be to hope that Sam Barrington, Joe Thomas, or Jake Doughty; guys with legitimate inside linebacker instincts, can replace Jones in the starting lineup. Either way, by recognizing and working with what they have perhaps the Packer’s defense might be able to start performing better in adversity in the future. Now that I would put in BIG LETTERS.