Packers playing like it's 2011, which unfortunately goes for defense, too

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's face facts: The Green Bay Packers' offense is -- and probably will be as long as Aaron Rodgers is around -- better than the Green Bay Packers' defense. But remember when Rodgers proclaimed, "We've got a defense"?

It wasn't long ago -- Sept. 5, 2019, to be exact -- when Rodgers made that statement after the other side of the ball bailed him and his offensive mates out in a season-opening 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears.

But here is the defense now, 381 days later, making that wishful thinking on Rodgers' part.

Throughout the first three weeks of the season -- when the Packers' offense has regained its explosiveness -- Rodgers has been asked to compare what's happening on his side of the ball to some of his greatest offensive teams. The record-setting 2011 season, when the Packers set franchise marks for yards and points (among other records), already has been mentioned.

"We've had some good offenses over the years," Rodgers said after Sunday's 37-30 win over the Saints. "I think about the '14 offense. I felt like we had such a run there at home where we're scoring something over 20 points every first half, and I wasn't playing a bunch of fourth quarters during that year because we were lighting up the scoreboard. In '11, we obviously had a really good offense and put up some amazing numbers, but this offense is just so different."

Perhaps what should be asked at this point is if the defense is going to be as problematic as it was that same season. The 2011 Packers gave up the most yards per game (411.6) and the most passing yards per game (299.8) of any team in the NFL that season. They also ranked tied for last in yards allowed per play (6.9) and 29th in yards per pass attempt (7.5). Their 15-1 season was spoiled by a divisional round playoff loss to the Giants, when Rodgers & Co. couldn't match their regular-season production and their defense couldn't change its lack of it. A Hail Mary touchdown to end the first half seemed more appropriate than it was surprising.

The defensive numbers through three games this season look almost as problematic: 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed per play (6.6) and 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt (7.88). Their overall ranking in yards allowed (14th overall, 18th in passing and 14th in rushing) don't look as bad in part because the offense has dominated in time of possession, leading the league.

"I think there was a lot of good and stuff that we've just got to be more consistent with as a defense," coach Matt LaFleur said. "Because there are times where we're firing at a high level and then there are times where teams get big plays or consistently march the ball down the field."

Missed tackles was the most glaring issue in Sunday's win over the Saints -- at least 13 of them by LaFleur's count.

"There were a couple others where they don't get credited for missed tackles but we had some guys that took some bad angles that weren't in position to make a tackle," he said. "So there were definitely some concerns there, no doubt about it."

Five of those misses came on Alvin Kamara's 52-yard touchdown catch and run. Dime defensive back Will Redmond had the first whiff, behind the line of scrimmage at the Saints' 46. Then came linebacker Ty Summers at the Packers' 49 followed by safety Adrian Amos at the 25, cornerback Jaire Alexander at the 21 and finally safety Darnell Savage at the 7.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Packers gave up 2.9 yards after contact per catch against the Saints, which was the highest of any team in a game in Week 3 and the second-highest they've given up in any game since the start of the 2019 season.

When asked whether he's tempted to try some live tackling drills in practice this week in advance of Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons, LaFleur didn't hesitate to answer.

"Not tempted at all," he said.

The Packers have been without one of their most important defensive players, Kenny Clark, since midway through the season opener against the Vikings when he left because of a groin injury. They're also now without their two preferred starting inside linebackers, veteran Christian Kirksey (who left Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury that will sideline him at last through the bye week, if not longer) and rookie Kamal Martin (on injured reserve because of a knee injury).

They've had some fill-in bright spots: second-year defensive tackle Kingsley Keke recorded his first two career sacks on Sunday against the Saints, and Summers played his first career defensive snaps after Kirksey left and led the team with nine tackles despite missing one bad one on Kamara.

And some big plays, too: Za'Darius Smith turned the Saints game with his forced fumble and recovery in the fourth quarter Sunday and Chandon Sullivan had a pick-six in Week 2 against the Lions.

"It works hand-in-hand," Keke said. "We know the offense is going to do their thing when they get the ball and we can do our thing as well on defense. It's just playing our standard of football and being able to stop them as well. It's just our standard of being able to get them off the field."

Sounds a lot like 2011.