GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If only the cure for the Green Bay Packers' problems on defense were as simple as coach Mike McCarthy made it sound on Monday.
One day after he watched the New Orleans Saints batter his team for 193 yards on the ground, McCarthy's message to his team was direct.
"We need to tackle the damn ball carrier and put him on the ground," he said. "That's what we'll be focused on."
McCarthy and his staff have the bye week to figure out if they can salvage their run defense, which has not ranked higher than 30th at any point during in the first half of the season and slipped back to 32nd (last) after Sunday's 44-23 loss.
"The run defense was our Achilles' heel clearly on defense," McCarthy said. "Too many missed tackles."
He was speaking of the game against the Saints, who got 172 yards from underachieving running back Mark Ingram, but he could have just as easily been summing up the first two months of the season. ProFootballFocus.com charged the Packers with 13 missed tackles, while Ingram was credited with either breaking or avoiding 10 tackles. Halfway though the season, PFF has the Packers with 70 missed tackles, which is easily on pace to surpass last year's total of 116.
"I’ve seen us through the first half of the season play pretty good run defense, so I feel like we can," defensive coordinator Dom Capers insisted Monday. "You look at last night, you might question it a little bit. But I've seen us have our moments where we've played good run defense. That's what we've got to do this second half. We know when you have something like that you get tested, and you get tested until you take care of it."
The best the Packers have done against the run this season in any game came on Oct. 19 against the Carolina Panthers, who still managed 108 yards on the ground.
Capers might have to decide whether he can continue to play his undersized nickel package, which features just two defensive linemen, as his primary defensive look.
That his base 3-4 unit came up with consecutive stops on third-and-1 and fourth-and-2 against the Saints would indicate that he has the personnel to play the run even though he has clearly missed nose tackle B.J. Raji, who was lost for the year because of a torn biceps tendon in the preseason.
"Everybody wants to talk about scheme and personnel," McCarthy said. "That's something that you’re always weighing or looking at. Or are there other individuals who deserve opportunities? Can we use other individuals a certain way? That's really what we talk about as coaches day-in and day-out. Our issue is on run D are fundamental. We need to do a better job of staying square [and] getting in our gaps."