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Opponents See Green Light Against Packers’ Red-Zone Defense

The Green Bay Packers' all-time bad defense in the red zone stands in stark contrast to its performance on the other 80 yards.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe the Green Bay Packers got their red-zone offense on track on Sunday at Chicago.

Now, about that red-zone defense?

In six games, the opposition has advanced inside Green Bay’s 20-yard line on 15 occasions. Each time, the result has been a touchdown.

The Packers are the only team in the NFL without a red-zone stop. According to the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, the Packers are the only team over at least the last 40 seasons that failed to get even one red-zone stop through the first six weeks of a season. It could be longer than that but the data doesn’t go any further.

The league-wide touchdown rate in the red zone this season is 61.8 percent. The Packers would need to get nine consecutive stops to get to that level. Even getting one right now would be cause for a parade.

By now, you’d think Joe Barry’s crew would have at least one stop through dumb luck. Nope. On Sunday, a questionable holding call nullified a touchdown and moved the Bears out of the red zone and back to the 26. They still scored a touchdown, with Darnell Mooney’s 5-yard catch coming on a busted coverage.

“Those are self-inflicted wounds,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “You’ve got to make sure that you don’t beat yourself first. There’s a lot of room growth there.”

That’s the understatement of the year.

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To be sure, the injury report isn’t helping. On Sunday, Green Bay was without starting cornerbacks Jaire Alexander (injured reserve) and Kevin King (inactive) and starting outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (injured reserve) and Preston Smith (eight snaps). Alexander and King have been on the field together for only two games. Za’Darius Smith has played only 18 snaps.

Injuries are an excuse, though. With the Monday game still to be played, Green Bay is sixth in yards allowed per play, fifth in yards allowed per passing play, seventh in interception percentage and 14th in sack percentage. So, injuries notwithstanding, this group has shown it is capable of playing excellent defense.

All hell breaks loose in the red zone, though, making it the equivalent of an 80-yard field. Green Bay is 30th in yards allowed per play (2.9). That’s at least better than takeaways (zero) and sacks (zero), areas in which it is last.

Outside the red zone, Green Bay is sixth in yards allowed per play (4.6), fifth in interceptions (six), fifth in fumbles (three) and seventh in sacks (13).

It’s been a shooting gallery for opposing quarterbacks in an area where it’s supposed to be hard to complete passes because of the limited amount of space. Five of the six starters to face Green Bay had passer ratings of greater than 100 in the red zone. Starting with New Orleans’ Jameis Winston going 6-of-6 with four touchdowns in the opener, four of the quarterbacks didn’t throw a single incompletion. In total, the quarterbacks went 20-of-25 with 10 touchdowns. San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo had four of the five incompletions. For context, Aaron Rodgers is 18-of-29 with 10 touchdowns and one interception.

The numbers from the first 80 yards of the field provide some hope that improvement is on the way for those last 20. Time is of the essence. On Sunday, Green Bay will host struggling Washington. It is tied for 14th with a 62.5 percent touchdown rate. After that, it’s four consecutive games against top-10 attacks: Arizona (ninth, 67.9 percent), Kansas City (sixth, 70.8 percent), Seattle (fourth, 75.0 percent) and Minnesota (10th, 66.7 percent).

Of the seven quarterbacks with at least 10 red-zone touchdown passes, four are on the upcoming schedule: Arizona’s Kyler Murray (10), Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (tied for league lead with 12), Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (10) and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford (tied with Mahomes with 12).

Still, the Packers are 5-1 and winners of five straight, thanks in part to a defense that is 13th with 22.7 points allowed per game.

“The positive is we haven’t done very well in that department but we’ve still been able to win games, so hopefully that will start to even out a little bit, you’d think at some point,” LaFleur said. “But we’ve got to continue to grind and work at it and maybe look at what we’re doing and try to switch some things up.”

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