Swagger-filled defense gets knocked down a peg

Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers’ locker room was a happy place following season-opening victories over Chicago, Minnesota and Denver.

It was different vibe, as you’d expect, following Thursday’s 34-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s especially true for a defense that feasted on big plays in the first three games but came up empty against Carson Wentz and once again couldn’t handle the running game.

“Of course, we’re down about the game, but we’re not down,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “Everybody came in here with, I wouldn’t say good spirits, but everybody came in with their head up. We’re going to regroup and we’re going to figure it out. We got punched in the mouth today and I’m happy we did. We’re going to see how we handle adversity. I know our guys, they handle adversity well. I’m excited to see how we handle it.”

Happy?

“I just know how we handle adversity and I know we’re a team that’s not going to give up,” Clark said. “We’re going to stick together and we’re going to bounce back.”

The bouncing back has to start with the run defense, which was destroyed for a third consecutive game. After being gashed for 198 yards by Minnesota and 149 by Denver, Green Bay was blown off the ball to the tune of 176 yards by Philadelphia. Again and again and again, running backs Jordan Howard (15 carries, 87 yards, two touchdowns) and Miles Sanders (11 carries, 72 yards) had clear sailing. The Eagles had four runs of 16-plus yards and didn’t have a single negative-yardage play.

“We’ve got to go out there and be better than we were tonight. Because this wasn’t us,” outside linebacker Preston Smith said. “We didn’t show you all who this defense really is tonight.”

What this defense had been was one of the stingiest in the NFL. By allowing 11.7 points per game and forcing eight turnovers in the first three games, the defense had built some serious swagger. After last week’s victory over Denver, cornerback Jaire Alexander said the Packers had the best defense in the league. Getting pushed around by the Eagles – 34 points, no takeaways, no sacks and no red-zone stops – should take that down a peg, though the confidence remains.

“I don’t think it’s wavering at all,” defensive back Tramon Williams said. “I still feel great about our guys, knowing that we’re going to come to play the next game. There’s always adversity that strikes. We just have to show what we do at that time. I still feel good about our guys.”

That good feeling comes from what Williams saw from his teammates. Or, more accurately, what he didn’t see. Even as the Eagles averaged 5.3 yards per carry and were so efficient that they had only nine third-down plays, Williams never saw the bickering that can tear a team apart.

“I still have a really good vibe,” he said. “The team, just the vibe of the team, everybody’s sticking together at this point. I don’t feel no tension at all. …

“It typically shows its face really fast. I would have already known. I would have saw it on the sideline, I guarantee you that, but I didn’t see anything on the sideline, didn’t see any finger-pointing. Everybody remained composed throughout the game. We felt like we were going to win the game. We knew it was a good opponent but we felt confident in coming out with the victory. I think guys still feel that way. We’re going to come to work next week and put in the same work. Obviously, we’ve got to clean up some things but, at the same time, we’re still confident.”

The Packers will get a few extra days to clean those things up before a huge challenge next week at undefeated Dallas, which is fourth in scoring, second in total offense, third in rushing offense and fourth in passing offense. Fixing that run defense will be paramount against Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. If that doesn’t happen, Green Bay could be looking at a losing streak.

“No panic, you know what I’m saying? I pride myself on that,” safety Adrian Amos said. “No panic. Things happen. I don’t think any of y’all thought we were going 16-0. That’s always the goal. You want to win every single game but things happen. You get outplayed, you lose games sometimes. It’s about bouncing back. Just like we say don’t let one play beat you twice, don’t let the Eagles beat us next week.”

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