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Kingsley Keke on State of Defense After Beating Saints

Kingsley Keke on State of Defense After Beating Saints

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Four Downs: Defenseless Packers?

Here are four key factors from the Green Bay Packers' victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The 1983 edition of the Packers epitomized that era in franchise history. Green Bay, which entered the season with the fifth-best Super Bowl odds, finished fifth in the 28-team league in scoring with 26.8 points per game. However, it finished only 8-8 as it allowed 27.4 points per game. That ranked 26th in the NFL. The total of 439 points allowed stands as the worst in franchise history.

Through three games, the 2020 edition of the Packers is on pace to allow 453 points.

However, as Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Green Bay’s defense isn’t good. There’s no sugarcoating that fact. But it’s not exactly awful. Their 28.3 points allowed per game ranks 21st in the league headed into Monday night. The median scoring figure is 26.0.

To be sure, the Packers have a lot of work to do on that side of the ball. They are last in the league in yards allowed per play, 29th in rushing yards per play, 27th in passing yards per play and 25th on third down. Green Bay ranks in the top 10 in only one category; it’s eighth in sack percentage.

If your glass is half-full, it’s that the Smith Bros. haven’t dominated a game and Kenny Clark has played less than two quarters. If your glass is half-empty, the run defense somehow is worse than last season, linebacker Christian Kirksey is hurt (again) and the tackling was terrible.

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Tackling Dummies

Speaking of tackling, Alvin Kamara’s 52-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter was one for NBC’s highlights reel – Cris Collinsworth practically drooled all over the microphone on the replay – but it also was one for Green Bay’s blooper reel. Will Redmond should have had a tackle for loss. Instead, it was the first of four missed tackles – Ty Summers, Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage had the others.

By our unofficial count, Green Bay missed 10 tackles on the night. Eight of them were on Kamara, which loomed large in his 197-yard night. Kamara’s made a lot of defenses look silly because he’s so good in the passing game – he caught all nine targets against the Raiders last week and 13 of 14 vs. Green Bay. Green Bay might not be able to do much about its personnel. So, that means improved tackling is a necessity.

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“You tip your hats off to him,” defensive tackle Kingsley Keke said after his two-sack night. “He’s a special, talented player for sure. When he gets the ball, he’s going to make some stuff happen regardless. I tip my hat off to him. That’s what he does. He’s going to make this plays. As a defense, we can still fix up some things, tackle better and basically be able to tackle him and get him off the field when we have the chance.”

Key Plays Save the Day

The saving grace of the defense has been its penchant for making a few big plays. On Sunday night, Za’Darius Smith’s forced fumble and recovery against backup quarterback Taysom Hill was the game-turning play.

With the game tied at 27, the Saints had just taken over on Green Bay’s side of midfield after stuffing Aaron Jones on fourth-and-1. Instead of New Orleans getting a short field for the go-ahead score, Smith’s fumble gave Green Bay a short field for its go-ahead field goal. On the ensuing possession, the Saints faced a third-and-5. Chandon Sullivan beat the blocking on a receiver screen to stop Kamara well short of the line to gain. The Saints punted and Green Bay scored the clinching touchdown.

In 2011, Green Bay went 15-1 behind a prolific offense that scored the third-most points in NFL history. The defense wasn’t very good but all it needed was a couple stops to help the offense turn a close game into a runaway. A league-leading 38 takeaways provided a lot of those stops. This defense has forced only three in three games.

Giving Them the Boot(leg)

It was a battle of strength vs. strength. With Jones leading the NFL in rushing, the Packers ranked No. 1 overall. The Saints were fourth in the league in rushing yards allowed per carry and entered the night having not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 44 consecutive games.

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The Saints won that battle but they lost the war. Jones gained 69 yards and the Packers managed 98. But Packers coach Matt LaFleur used that run-centric approach against defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s unit. Time and again, Rodgers faked the handoff to Jones or Jamaal Williams, took a couple steps and dumped an easy pass to the tight end. 

Robert Tonyan (five catches, 50 yards), Jace Sternberger (three catches, 36 yards) and Marcedes Lewis (one catch, 18 yards, one touchdown) combined for nine receptions for 104 yards. Most of those came on those short bootlegs – keepers, in Packers lingo – including the clinching touchdown to Tonyan. In Rodgers’ estimation, the team had run only two or three in the first two games. It wasn’t just the short stuff. The 48-yard bomb to Lazard that set up Green Bay’s first touchdown came on play action. Of Rodgers’ 21 completions, about two-thirds were on play action.

“That’s why it all ties together and it’s important stay with the run game, whether it’s going to your liking or not because it does open up stuff for you down the field,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, that played a big role tonight with all the keepers and play-passes that we ran.”

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The 1983 edition of the Packers epitomized that era in franchise history. Green Bay, which entered the season with the fifth-best Super Bowl odds, finished fifth in the 28-team league in scoring with 26.8 points per game. However, it finished only 8-8 as it allowed 27.4 points per game. That ranked 26th in the NFL. The total of 439 points allowed stands as the worst in franchise history.

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