Packers' D has work to do -- and not just learning how to hit QBs

LANDOVER, Md. -- Anyone who has watched the Green Bay Packers had to know this was coming.

No, not another Clay Matthews' roughing the passer penalty that infuriated and exasperated the veteran outside linebacker -- though there was that, too.

But after Kirk Cousins and Stefon Diggs connected on a 75-yard deep-ball touchdown pass in Week 2, Packers defensive pass game coordinator Joe Whitt offered this:

"What I always tell guys is when you give up the ball like we did to [Diggs] over the top, you're going to get tested at least the next four weeks because it's on everybody's tape for the next four weeks," Whitt said. "Even though they check the ball down, they're going to push the ball vertically up the field. We have to do a better job of maintaining vertical control from not only the corner but the middle of the field. That's a dual play. We're going to get tested. They should test us because we put a negative play on film."

They failed again. If Whitt and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine don't fix the problem, what happened again in Sunday's 31-17 loss at Washington could become the norm for a defense that was supposed to improve after coach Mike McCarthy fired long-time coordinator Dom Capers in January.

The Redskins waited all of four plays to take their shot, and just like last week against Diggs, safety Kentrell Brice appeared to mishandle the inside leverage on a deep route that Paul Richardson Jr. turned into a 46-yard touchdown from Alex Smith on the game's opening drive. This time it was rookie corner Jaire Alexander on the outside. Last week it was veteran Davon House.

Perhaps the most perplexing thing is that Brice was involved both times after McCarthy said he was the Packers' highest-graded defensive player in the season-opening win over the Bears.

"We [were] in Cover 4. I was doing what was asked of me to do," Brice said. "Anything else you can ask the coach."

The coaches' actions said it all. On the next series, they moved Brice closer to the line of scrimmage and shifted back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who had his second interception of the season. Perhaps the Packers will try second-year safety Josh Jones, who has been inactive in all three games this season, instead of Brice next Sunday against Buffalo.

Just as the Matthews' penalty wasn't the sole reason the Packers lost, neither was the deep-ball touchdown. But it was a sign that there's still much for Pettine and his staff to fix on defense.

The first half against the Redskins was a continuation of the second half and overtime against the Vikings. In the past four quarters plus overtime, the Packers' defense allowed 649 total net yards, including 500 total net passing yards.

"We've got work to do," McCarthy said. "It's Week 3. I'm in tune with the patterns of everything that we do football-wise. I would say that come the fourth quarter, overtime of last week, some of that carries over to the first half, but I thought our guys did a good job of setting their jaw. The defense gave us plenty of opportunities in the second half."

McCarthy was right. The Redskins managed just one first down in the second half until the final two minutes. Washington's first four possessions of the second half ended with punts. But the damage -- in the form of 28 points -- was done.

"The first half was bad," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "I don't know how else to put it. The first half was bad. A lot of inconsistent play. We came out the second half and did better, but it was a little too late at that point."

Three defensive backs (Alexander, Williams and House) were called for pass interference penalties on one drive, ending with Adrian Peterson's first-quarter touchdown run. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had not been called for three defensive pass interference penalties in a game since 2010 -- let alone a single drive.

The Packers had other issues as well: Aaron Rodgers wasn't sharp early, Randall Cobb dropped two passes (twice as many as he had in the previous three seasons combined), and the offensive line lost both of its right-side starters (tackle Bryan Bulaga to a back injury and guard Justin McCray with a shoulder issue). But those are mostly proven players who almost always bounce back.

The onus is on the defense to not only figure out how to adjust to the NFL's perplexing quarterback protection rules but also not let them mess with the rest of the unit.

"I don't know if it's impacting the other 10 on defense," Williams said. "I think it impacts the game, yeah. But I don't think it impacts the other 10 on defense.

"It's tough because our season is being identified as that play right now. So it's the easy thing to go to. It's the easy thing to point at. Do I think it affects the game? Yeah, I think it affects the game. I think they're putting a lot of pressure on the refs now to make these calls, and it's really affecting the game. I don't blame the refs. They have to make the call that they feel and see fit at that point in time, but it's really affecting the game. And it's affecting wins and losses."