Packers' run defense undergoing extensive scrutiny

AP Photo/Morry Gash
Lions RB David Montgomery

GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur is putting the Packers’ run defense under a microscope of sorts.

Understandably upset after Thursday night’s loss to the Lions, during which the Packers allowed a second opponent in three weeks to top 200 rushing yards, LaFleur suggested the defense must start doing things differently.

On Friday, he expounded on that a little, pointing to the defense’s standard approach of guarding against explosive plays. Too much focus on that could be coming at the expense of the run defense, and the coaching staff will be examining possible adjustments.

“It’s more the philosophy of some of the things we’re trying to get done, different ways, especially when you know teams are going to run the ball,” LaFleur said. “I know we’d like to keep a shell on our defense, but there may be times we have to break that.”

Without getting into specifics, he also mentioned him, defensive coordinator Joe Barry, and his assistants studying how the Packers are using some of their defenders and perhaps tweaking their roles or responsibilities.

“Trust me, we’re looking at everything,” he said. “It’s all of us in it together – myself, our defensive staff, just looking at, shoot, some of the opponents we play, how are they trying to stop the run? You’ve always got to look at different ways.”

Reviewing the film of the 34-20 defeat to Detroit was a necessary exercise in frustration in a lot of areas, but the run defense was a primary sore spot.

LaFleur gave the Lions credit for their stout play up front, and to running back David Montgomery for a lot of “dirty yards” as he broke several tackles pounding his way to 121 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 32 carries. But LaFleur also saw the defense exhibiting the ability to stop the run on several plays, then struggling mightily on many others.

Statistically, the inconsistency was maddening. Not including Montgomery’s three short TD runs, the defense held Detroit’s run game to two yards or less on 15 carries. The Packers also allowed just three yards on six other rushes. By and large, those 21 plays are wins for the defense.

But on the flip side, the Lions had 12 rushes of six yards or more, and those don’t include the 40-yard reverse, a trick play that worked just as designed to set up an early Detroit score.

“I think a lot of it can be solved schematically, I really do,” LaFleur said. “We’ve got enough players.

“I thought there were displays of some really good defense, and then there was some that you want to take the tape and chuck it at the wall.”

A dozen carries of at least six yards, with three runs covering 12, 13 and 16 yards, only encourages opposing offenses to stick with the run, believing they’ll either stay ahead of the chains enough, or possibly break an explosive run with persistence. Eventually, the defense is going to wear down against that level of commitment.

LaFleur seemed to be suggesting Friday it’s up to the Packers to look at how to break that commitment. If defensive alignments and personnel deployments, which often keep second- and third-level defenders back to protect against big plays down the field, are inviting opponents to keep running the ball, then the defense has to force their hand more often.

“I don’t think any of us can be so rigid,” he said. “If you don’t adapt when things aren’t working, then you have to look at … you have to be willing to adapt.

“I think as a staff, we’re open-minded enough to make those adjustments and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to put our guys in a better position.”

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