Packers struggling for wins despite improving defense
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers defense has been playing solid football over the last three weeks, and it’s still getting overlooked.
This wouldn’t be an issue in most any other season in Green Bay. Among many Packers fans, nitpicking over the defense is about as routine an activity in Wisconsin in December as shoveling show.
This time around, it’s the Green Bay offense that is struggling to gain consistency. For the most part, the defense has held up, giving up an average of 16 points over the last three games.
"Done some really good things. Big plays, negative runs (and) the pass rush has been there where it’s been. The run defense is always the starting point," coach Mike McCarthy said.
And the starting point against the run is up front, where linemen Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji provide stout and often disruptive presences.
The barrel-chested Daniels attacks the line of scrimmage with a non-stop motor. Raji might be having one of the best seasons of his seven-year career as the space-eating defender in the middle. Listed at 337 pounds, Raji has slimmed down this season and looks more athletic.
The Packers defense hasn’t allowed an opposing running back to gain over 100 yards in its last four games, with the gem coming on Nov. 22 at Minnesota. Adrian Peterson was limited to 45 yards on 13 carries in a 30-13 win over the Vikings.
"For us, the main focus is to stop the run," defensive end Datone Jones said.
The third-year player is showing flashes of the potential the Packers hoped they would get when they drafted him in the first round in 2013.
Jones, who is being used more in a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end role, has three sacks. His 10 quarterback hurries are the most among Packers linemen going into Thursday’s game against Detroit, one ahead of Daniels.
With Jones added to the mix, the Packers have so many outside pass-rushing options, they can even afford to give veteran Julius Peppers a rare day off from practice on Monday. Peppers has a team-high six sacks, but only a half-sack over the last four games.
"He obviously doesn’t like to miss practice. So, that was a decision I think we needed to make, just give him a day," McCarthy said.
Green Bay is tied for fifth in the NFL with 30 sacks, though those quarterback hits have come in bunches. The Packers went a three-game stretch without a sack before getting six against the Vikings.
Daniels, though, likes how the line is pushing people around more over the last three games.
"I think the physicality has been there, you look at how we’ve done in the run defense specifically," Daniels said. "So we just have to keep pushing (forward), keep cleaning this up."
The stoic Daniels can set the tone with an intense glare and what he calls a "street fight" mentality.
"It’s up to us to get things rolling, to get things started," Daniels said, "and then everybody helps us out, and we help them out as a team."
NOTES: The Packers did not practice on Tuesday. Defensive backs Damarious Randall (knee) and Micah Hyde (hip) were full participants in practice on Monday and appear to be on target to play on Thursday. They’ll help fortify a secondary that must content with Lions receiver Calvin Johnson for the second time in three weeks. … Tight end Andrew Quarless (knee) returned to practice on Monday for the first time since coming off the injured reserve/designated to return list, though it appears unlikely that he would be available on Thursday.