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Matt LaFleur calls for Packers' defense to be 'more physical'

In Buffalo, rough stretch of five drives did them in

Packers' defense
Packers' defense

GREEN BAY – In what has developed into a disturbing pattern for the Packers' defense, another rough patch lasted far too long Sunday night in Buffalo.

This time it was a stretch of five possessions – four in the first half after an opening three-and-out, and then the initial drive of the second half – that all ended in scores, 27 points total in the 27-17 defeat.

There was a lot to point to after reviewing the film, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur did Monday, mentioning the explosive plays, missed tackles, and inability to keep Bills QB Josh Allen contained in the pocket.

But more broadly, he feels a key aspect of the defense's play mirrors the inconsistency as a whole, coming and going too often.

"I think we need to be more physical," LaFleur said. "I think you look at the teams that are toughest to deal with in this league, especially from a defensive standpoint and physicality, it jumps out to you. There were moments where we're not always getting that."

He also referenced seeing hesitation rather than aggression against a ball carrier on occasion. He doesn't believe that's rooted in indecision, meaning it's not a lack of understanding the scheme or responsibilities.

But not being in attack mode in the open field means gaps weren't closing and Buffalo's playmakers had too much room to work with.

"You've got to take the air out of it, especially when you're going against some pretty athletic guys that can run pretty well and can make you miss," he said. "You don't want to give them all that space."

The defense did play better in the second half, not allowing any more points after the third-quarter field goal, and getting two interceptions against Allen. But the damage had been done.

And most of it was done by Allen, who hit big pass plays to Stefon Diggs and James Cook, and whose 20-yard scramble on third-and-14 in Green Bay territory was a play LaFleur referenced often amidst the regrets.

That run, which included a missed tackle or two, was the difference between Buffalo taking an early 3-0 or 7-0 lead. Allen wound up with 50 rushing yards on five attempts before a minus-1 kneel-down at the end of the game.

"We knew going into the game that the rush lanes were going to be absolutely imperative that we maintain and bottle them up within the pocket," LaFleur said. "That was the emphasis and he still was able to get outside, so that's disappointing, obviously.

"There were a couple times where I thought we just got outran around the corner, and there were certainly some instances where there was a little too much space inside, so you've got to give him credit, too. He's a damn good one."

Allen's scrambling ability also dictated how the Packers matched up in pass coverage, as LaFleur explained against a QB like him it's not as simple as putting the best cornerback, Jaire Alexander, on the best receiver, Diggs, who had six catches for 108 yards and a TD.

That decision would commit the defense to man coverage, which is played often with the defenders' backs to the QB, and Allen likely would've found even more running lanes if no receivers were open.

"I just don't think that's the way you want to attack Buffalo, not with that quarterback," LaFleur said.

In the end, the Packers' approach didn't work well enough anyway, and it didn't help that two mainstays in the middle of the field – inside linebackers De'Vondre Campbell (knee injury) and Quay Walker (ejection) – both left the game.

Campbell's injury is not considered long-term, but his availability for this week in Detroit is "up in the air."

Elsewhere on the injury front, LaFleur didn't have a specific update on receiver Christian Watson's concussion, but said after the game he was in a "relatively good state of mind."

Ultimately, with a depleted receiving corps, the offense didn't do its part either despite a robust running game, scoring just once in four first-half possessions. Two failed fourth downs in Buffalo territory, one in each half, loomed large in a 10-point defeat.

The Packers are stuck in a rut where one side of the ball isn't able to pick up the other that's struggling, which has stretched the losing streak to four, the longest for the Packers in six years.

"As a whole, as a team, we have to play better complementary football," LaFleur said, "and then we might not be having this conversation."