Big Stops, But Not Enough Stops, for Packers

The Green Bay Packers defense gave up a lot of yards and suffered through a miserable third quarter but also kept the team in the game at Indianapolis.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. –The Green Bay Packers’ defensive performance against the Indianapolis Colts mirrored Sunday’s game as a whole.

Bizarre.

The Packers lost 34-31 to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. From one perspective, Green Bay’s defense deserves the brunt of the blame. The Colts piled up 420 yards and dominated the third quarter to rally from a 28-14 halftime deficit. Of their 140 rushing yards, 97 came in the second half.

From another perspective, Green Bay would have been blown out of the water if not for the defense. The Packers’ four giveaways were turned into only six points. In fact, the defense didn’t allow so much as a single first down on those turnovers.

The adage of “defense wins championships” no longer holds a lot of water in today’s NFL, with the game tailored to quarterbacks and offenses. Most weeks, all things being at least mostly equal, the team with the better quarterback wins. 

However, the last seven Super Bowl champions have at least finished in the top 10 in points allowed. With Week 11 not yet complete, Green Bay is No. 17 with 25.8 points allowed per game.

Nonetheless, coach Matt LaFleur said “I think so” when asked if his defense is good enough to win a championship.

“I just think there’s got to be more consistency,” he said. “We’ll go back and look at the tape, see what we did well and the areas we need to improve upon. Obviously, what stands out is it seemed like they were pretty effective running the football, especially in the second half. That’s an area that we’re going to have to clean up and continue to get better at. The other thing is this: We had a lot of offside penalties. You can’t have undisciplined football, especially against a good offense, against a good team. Those are two areas we’re going to improve upon.”

Green Bay, which entered the week with the second-fewest takeaways in the NFL, added to its meager total of seven with two in the first half against the Colts. The first was a forced fumble by safety Raven Greene, whose punching loose of the ball answered a botched center-quarterback exchange that killed Green Bay's opening possession. The second came early in the second quarter, when defensive tackle Billy Winn’s deflection wound up in the hands of linebacker Christian Kirksey for an interception. That play helped put the Packers in command 21-7.

Green Bay led 28-14 at halftime but, instead of delivering the knockout blow, its defense was staggered. The Colts opened the third quarter with a 14-play drive. They managed only a field goal, thanks to a tackle for loss shared by Kirksey and Preston Smith and a sack by Kenny Clark.

After Green Bay went three-and-out, the Colts embarked on a 10-play drive for a touchdown. The Colts converted a fourth-and-1 and a third-and-1 before Philip Rivers’ touchdown pass to tight end Trey Burton beat Smith. The two-point play made it 28-25.

Green Bay’s offense closed the third quarter with another three-and-out possession. The Colts drove eight plays for the tying field goal.

Then, Darrius Shepherd fumbled the kickoff return and handed the Colts the ball at the Packers’ 28. The Colts turned that into three more points to lead 31-28.

So, that point, here was the tale of the tape in the second half: The Colts ran 36 plays and scored 17 points. The Packers ran six plays and scored none.

The defense showed some backbone late. With the Colts driving toward a clinching score, the Packers coaxed one holding call after another after another. Finally, on third-and-26, Za’Darius Smith forced an incompletion that initially was ruled a fumble and touchdown on Kirksey’s return. Nonetheless, Green Bay forced a punt that allowed Aaron Rodgers and Co. to force an ill-fated overtime.

“I’m a guy that always reaches for the positives when it comes to something not going our way,” Kirksey said. “But if you look at our team, we're built strong. We're going to fight to the wire. We're understanding that we still have goals in front of us. We played a tough team today and that's what NFL football is about. We've just got to make sure we close games out like this and just give us a chance to work on something and get better. We'll see what this week has in store for us and clean up something things, but I have total faith in the group of men that's on this team in this locker room that we're still going to move forward and build.”