‘Got gashed:’ Run defense remains major concern for GB
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay’s early season schedule gave the Packers a couple of immediate opportunities to measure how much they shored up their run defense, the team’s biggest weakness during Matt LaFleur’s coaching tenure.
The early returns suggest there’s still plenty of work to do. The Packers allowed 211 yards rushing Sunday as they blew a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 25-24 loss at Atlanta.
“We got gashed,” LaFleur said on Monday.
Season-opening trips to Chicago and Atlanta figured to challenge the Packers’ run defense because the Bears led the league and the Falcons ranked third in yards rushing per game last season.
The Falcons had since used the No. 8 overall draft pick on Bijan Robinson, the former Texas star who won the Doak Walker Award last year as the nation’s top college running back.
The Packers did a respectable job in their opener by limiting the Bears to 122 yards on 29 carries in a 38-20 season-opening victory. But they couldn’t slow Atlanta’s running game down the stretch.
The most notable example came when Robinson took a pitch and ran for a 7-yard gain on a fourth-and-1 play to set up Younghoe Koo’s 25-yard field goal that put Atlanta ahead for good with 57 seconds left. Robinson ended up rushing for 124 yards on 19 carries.
LaFleur praised Robinson and Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier. He said Atlanta schematically presented some challenges. But he also noted the Packers made things hard on themselves by missing too many tackles.
“There’s some things that were self-inflicted, no doubt about it,” LaFleur said.
Through Sunday night’s games, the Packers ranked 30th in the league in yards rushing allowed per game (166.5) and 22nd in yards allowed per carry (4.5).
That ranking in yards allowed per carry actually represents an improvement from most recent seasons. Green Bay was 28th (5.0) in that category last season, 30th (4.7) in 2021, 18th (4.5) in 2020 and 26th (4.7) in 2019.
Green Bay’s inability to slow Atlanta’s running game down the stretch ruined a day that had started out so well.
The Packers played the entire game without starting running back Aaron Jones, wide receiver Christian Watson and offensive tackle David Bakhtiari due to injuries. They lost a fourth starter on offense when left guard Elgton Jenkins hurt his knee. Yet the Packers still had a commanding lead and an opportunity to open the season with back-to-back road wins.
They just couldn’t finish.
Now they return home fearing their offensive line could be at less than full strength for the foreseeable future. The defense will have to pick up the slack by doing a much better job of stopping the run than it showed in Atlanta.
“I think there’s things we’ve got to adapt and adjust to and do a much better job,” LaFleur said.
WHAT’S WORKING: The Packers haven’t committed a turnover. … QB Jordan Love heads into Monday night’s action leading the NFL in passer rating, though he has completed only 55.8% of his attempts. … Green Bay’s young wideouts shown some impressive depth as the Packers play without Watson, who has missed the Packers’ first two games with a hamstring injury. Second-year pro Romeo Doubs and rookies Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks have combined for five touchdowns.
WHAT NEEDS HELP: The Packers must show more of a killer instinct. They were outgained 166-11 in the fourth quarter. Love was 0 for 6 in the final period.
STOCK UP: Reed scored his first two career touchdowns. … LB Quay Walker dropped a potential interception, but made 17 tackles.
STOCK DOWN: RB AJ Dillon has rushed for just 74 yards on 28 carries for an average of 2.6 yards per rush. He was unable to get the first down on a third-and-1 carry as the Packers attempted to protect a 24-22 lead in the fourth quarter. … CB Jaire Alexander arguably is the Packers’ best overall player, but he didn’t perform up to his usual standards Sunday. Alexander dropped an interception that could have resulted in a long return, though it at least still caused a change of possession because it came on fourth down. He also had the coverage on Desmond Ridder’s touchdown pass to Drake London. “I always want to be perfect and I always want to be the best, and I didn’t display that today, so yep, a little frustrated,” Alexander said after the game. “Nobody’s perfect.”
INJURIES: Jenkins said Monday he sprained his medial collateral ligament in the Falcons game, but added he expects to return later this season.
LaFleur said Bakhtiari’s unavailability Sunday after playing in Chicago wasn’t due to the fact this game was on turf. LaFleur said he believed Bakhtiari wouldn’t have been able to play even if the game had been at Lambeau Field. “His knee is injured,” LaFleur said. “There was swelling.”
KEY NUMBER: 0 — Number of first downs for the Packers in three fourth-quarter possessions.
NEXT STEPS: The Packers open their home schedule Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.