Day-After Notes: Big Plays Gash Defense

A defense doesn’t give up 500-plus passing yards without giving up some in big chunks, and that was where the Packers started on Monday with the evaluation of a rough game on pass defense in Pittsburgh. - More Dec. 21: Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript

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Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward makes a catch over the middle between Green Bay defenders Charles Woodson and Nick Collins during Sunday's game at Heinz Field.

A defense doesn't give up 500-plus passing yards without giving up some in big chunks, and that was where the Packers started on Monday with the evaluation of a rough game on pass defense in Pittsburgh.

Of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's team-record 503 passing yards, 364 came on just 12 completions, or less than half of his 29 in the game.

"We can't give up the big plays that we gave up," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "And we'd been doing a pretty good job of that. It just all kind of came at once."

And right from the start. Mike Wallace's 60-yard touchdown catch on Pittsburgh's first offensive snap set the tone for the Steelers' big-play day.

The others consisted of three catches by tight end Heath Miller for 23, 27 and 20 yards, two by receiver Santonio Holmes for 33 and 32 yards, two by running back Rashard Mendenhall for 25 yards each, three by receiver Hines Ward for 17, 29 and 54 yards, and Wallace's 19-yard TD grab on the game's final play.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday he felt after evaluating the film the issues were technique and assignment-oriented, but that doesn't change the fact that almost no one on defense was spared from Pittsburgh's onslaught.

Nickel back Jarrett Bush gave up the two longest plays of 60 and 54 yards in single coverage, but linebackers and other defensive backs were victimized throughout the day in one way or another.

"As a whole secondary, together, we just didn't play to the standard that we need to play," Bush said. "Flat-out, we didn't focus on the details that we needed to work on. We've got to do that for us to compete in the NFL and be able to move on in the playoffs and be the contender that we are and be the dominant defense that we are."

Statistically, Pittsburgh's 364 yards in big plays alone topped by a wide margin the 272 yards per game the Packers had been allowing before Sunday. The 537 total yards nearly doubled that season average.

"It's the NFL, man," nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "It's tough to consistently give up 200 yards, 250 yards a game. We just had a bad game. I'm happy we got it out of our system. We don't have to repeat that anymore.

"It was a game we learned from. We watched the tape. We gave up a lot of big plays, and that's uncharacteristic of our defense. So we're going to go back to the drawing board and we won't make the same mistakes again."

The other anomaly on Sunday was the absence of the turnovers that have been a staple of the defense's play. Roethlisberger did not throw an interception in 46 pass attempts, and the Steelers never fumbled. The only turnover, a sack-fumble by linebacker Clay Matthews, was overturned by a replay review that McCarthy said he was "surprised" went the Steelers' way.

"That's been a constant for our defense is taking the ball away," Capers said. "Quite frankly we had our hands on about four balls that we had very legitimate chances to come up with, and we didn't make the plays.

"You've got to make those plays. I think we had guys in position to make them, we just didn't make them."

Players were reviewing film on Monday before getting a jump-start on their preparations for Seattle. That early prep for the next opponent is due to a modified schedule this week that allows the players to be off on Christmas Day, with a normal Friday workload spread out through the rest of the week.

In the end it's probably a good thing to be moving on sooner, because while there's a lot to be learned from a game like Sunday's, there's nothing to be gained by dwelling on it for too long.

"Anytime you have a tough loss like that, it's easy to sit back on it and just be down on it, but you have to let it go," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "Let it go, move on. Now we're focusing on Seattle, focusing on getting this 10th win, and we'll go from there."

Kicking into gear

McCarthy said he has "zero interest" in bringing in another kicker at this stage despite Mason Crosby's struggles, and it's up to Crosby and the coaching staff to work through the problems.

Crosby missed wide right from 34 yards out on Sunday, the fourth straight game he's missed a field goal from 43 yards or closer. All of the recent misses have come from the right hashmark, and all have stayed wide to the right.

"When the ball goes right, I'm not finishing my right side enough, and I just have to make sure I finish that and get through to the target," Crosby said. "I think that's going to be the biggest focus is we detail our work so in a sense it slows down and we can simplify it. We're not going to overreact or overhaul everything I do. I'm going to put some good work in this week and detail those things."

{sportsad300}Crosby will continue to work with punter Jeremy Kapinos as his holder after Kapinos took over those duties last week. McCarthy said the switch was made because Kapinos and Crosby have more time to work together in practice than Crosby and previous holder Matt Flynn, who has other practice responsibilities as the No. 2 quarterback.

Crosby's miss on Sunday came with the Packers trailing 14-7 and rendered meaningless a 49-yard catch-and-run by Donald Driver, the offense's second-biggest play of the game. It was also his shortest miss of the season, and his shortest since having a 33-yarder blocked in the season opener against Minnesota last year.

"He needs to kick that ball through the upright there," McCarthy said. "That was an important field goal for us. To drive the football and come away with no points there, we've done it a couple times this year. It's a lesson that needs to be well-learned as we move down the stretch here.

"We're going into game No. 15, and he needs to do a better job of making key field goals. I think he's kicking the ball extremely well in the kickoff part of it. We're asking him to do more in that phase than he's done in the past. He didn't have a very good pre-game in Pittsburgh, and part of that carried over to that kick."

Injury update

McCarthy said linebacker Nick Barnett (knee) and Pickett (hamstring) would likely miss some practice time this week. Barnett bruised his surgically repaired knee but finished the game on Sunday while Pickett's hamstring "tightened up a little bit."

McCarthy added that defensive end Johnny Jolly was in Houston on Monday to deal with his legal situation, but he didn't expect Jolly to miss any practice time this week.

Other players who are nicked up will be evaluated further on Wednesday morning before practice.

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