GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Green Bay Packers needed their defense the most -- as in from the moment quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter of their Nov. 4 game against the Chicago Bears -- Dom Capers' unit crumbled.
The defense's steady improvement from its poor start the first three games of the season, after which it was ranked 27th out of 32 teams in the NFL in yards allowed per game, has suddenly been thrown into reverse.
After peaking at 11th in total defense after beating the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 27, when the Packers improved to 5-2, the defense has not been able to help make up for the loss of Rodgers.
Of the five major statistical categories -- yards, rushing yards, passing yards, points per game and third-down conversion percentage -- the Packers' defense has been worse the last three games in four of them and nearly the same in the fifth (see accompanying chart).
Offensively, the Packers haven't been able to maintain their level of production without Rodgers, either, but that was to be expected. How many teams can lose their starting quarterback and not experience a significant decline?
"Good quarterback play can cover a lot of ills on your team," Vikings cocah Leslie Frazier said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. "If you don't have good quarterback play, it can expose a lot of ills on your team. It makes a difference."
In this case, it exposed the Packers' defense.
Without Rodgers, the onus was on the defense. So far it has not delivered even if Capers said his unit did not feel any extra pressure to carry the team in Rodgers' absence.
"My career's been based off of not having the good fortune of being around an offense like this one very often," Capers said. "So I just feel like the defense has got to do whatever it takes to win the game. If that's take the ball away, if it's score on defense, if it's creating good field position for the offense, we haven't done that as much as we have in the past, and so we've got to find some way to get that done. And the takeaways have a lot to do with that."
The Packers got their first interception since Week 7 in Sunday's 27-13 loss to the New York Giants, but the big play by cornerback Tramon Williams wasn't close to enough. They were vulnerable to the explosive play, allowing four completions of 25 yards or more.
"Our guys just need to have the attitude that we need to go out and make people work for things, earn them," Capers said. "And not let them be easy. No freebies. And if we do that, like I say, I like the basis of the good things. We just have to find a way to get back to not giving up 20-plus yard plays because it normally ends up with points on the board."