Packers’ defense looks to bounce back from ‘bump in the road’

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GREEN BAY – There was no sounding the alarm on the defensive side of the Packers’ locker room following Thursday night’s 34-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field.

While disappointed in the outcome and its inability to turn over the Eagles, the defense had the same confident vibe as it did when allowing only 35 points during the team’s first three wins of the 2019 season.

Za’Darius and Preston Smith still conducted their postgame interview in tandem, while other veterans on the defense expressed optimism about the unit’s long-term potential.

The key, between now and the team’s Week 5 trip to Dallas, is cleaning up the areas that contributed to the Eagles scoring nearly as many points Thursday night as the Packers had allowed through their first three games.

“I didn’t see anything on the sideline, didn’t see any finger-pointing,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Everybody remained composed throughout the game. We felt like we were going to win the game. We knew it was a good opponent but we felt confident in coming out with the victory. I think guys still feel that way.”

Things couldn’t have started much better for Green Bay’s defense, forcing punts on Philadelphia’s two first-quarter possessions. Solid field position assisted the Eagles during their first two scores and ignited a stretch of four straight touchdown drives.

Carson Wentz threw for only 160 yards but got the ball out quickly and was effective in the red zone with a 6-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, a 3-yard score to Dallas Goedert and a 20-yard TD on a Jordan Howard catch-and-run in the third quarter.

Ultimately, it was on the ground where the Eagles really separated themselves. Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders combined for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, keeping Philadelphia’s offense in favorable down-and-distances.

The Eagles only had two plays of more than 20 yards but executed eight plays between 13 and 19 to keep the chains moving, converting on 5-of-9 third downs.

The longest play of the day for Philadelphia – Sanders’ 30-yard run at the end of the third quarter – opened the Eagles’ final scoring drive, culminating in a Howard 2-yard touchdown run to break a 27-27 tie.

“When we stop them on first down, get them on second-and-long, get them to third-and-7, we’re getting off the field,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “We gotta do a better job of stopping the run and getting them in long-distance situations because we’re getting off the field on third down.”

The Eagles protected the football well en route to becoming the first team in 2019 to not concede a sack or a takeaway to Green Bay’s defense, which entered the game top three in both categories.

Conversely, a Philadelphia team that was minus-2 in turnover margin capitalized on two Packers turnovers, the second of which came in the Eagles’ end zone with only 20 seconds remaining and sealed their second victory of the year.

Injuries were an issue for Green Bay. In addition to Za’Darius Smith dealing with a knee injury, a defense already down two starters (Montravius Adams and Oren Burks) finished without defensive backs Kevin King (groin), Tony Brown (hamstring) and Will Redmond (evaluated for a concussion).

Lambeau Field hosted a Thursday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4 of the 2019 NFL season.

It caused defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to call upon cornerback Chandon Sullivan to finish the game at safety, while starting safety Adrian Amos moved to the slot with cornerback Josh Jackson.

Amos, one of the defense’s three main offseason acquisitions, said afterward the performance wouldn’t diminish the defense’s swagger and remains confident it’ll make the right corrections.

“No panic,” Amos said. “You want to win every single game but things happen. You get outplayed, you lose games sometimes. It’s about bouncing back. Just like we say don’t let one play beat you twice, don’t let the Eagles beat us next week.”

The Packers have 10 days to recover before facing the Dallas Cowboys and Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott. As the defense goes back to the drawing board, it remains confident as the unit that entered Thursday as the league leader in takeaways and top five in points allowed, passing yards allowed and sacks.

“Nobody hung their head low after this loss,” Preston Smith said. “We know we’ve got to build from it. Just a bump in the road. It happened early in the season and we can learn from it and improve on a lot of things in this game.

“We’ve got to go out there and be better than we were tonight. Because this wasn’t us. We didn’t show you all who this defense really is tonight.”