Packers' defense looks to regain footing against Chicago

Green Bay still bullish about unit’s potential despite setback in Minnesota

DL Kenny Clark, LBs De'Vondre Campbell, Rashan Gary

GREEN BAY – As the Packers began preparations for Chicago this week, Kenny Clark and the defense had one singular focus as the team returned to the practice field following Sunday's 23-7 loss in Minnesota.

Show who they really are.

"I'm excited to go out there, play again and redeem ourselves," Clark said. "I'm ready to get back on the field and put on a performance and show the world that wasn't us last week."

Green Bay's defense got off to a rocky start against the Vikings and All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, who had four plays of 20 or more yards in the first half alone.

Coverage breakdowns and miscommunication against Minnesota's motion-heavy offense contributed to Jefferson finishing with nine receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns.

Green Bay's defense had been riding high prior to Sunday following a strong training camp that included two stifling joint practices against the New Orleans Saints. This week, however, defensive coaches and players came together and took a hard look in the mirror while reviewing the film.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry and his staff walked the team through corrections but also pointed out the positives, whether it was the defense's eight hits on Kirk Cousins, its four tackles for loss or the six plays where the Vikings didn't gain a yard.

"There were six or seven really bad plays that if I had a magic wand, we could go back and change," Barry said. "But the big thing is that we learned from it, we moved on and we've had two great days of practice … and we're onto the Bears."

The biggest question coming out of the loss was the coaches' decision not to have All-Pro Jaire Alexander match Jefferson.

Barry said Alexander is more than capable of traveling with elite receivers but there were two complicating factors for using that approach against the Vikings – the Packers weren't playing exclusively man defense and Minnesota moved Jefferson around a lot, similar to what Green Bay once did with Davante Adams.

"Jaire can be matched up and go cover anybody in the league. I firmly believe that he's that type of player," Barry said. "But you gotta look at the whole thing. You gotta look at No. 1, what's the best thing for us to play defense as a whole and what's the best thing for our defense to help us do the No. 1 thing, which is win the football game.

"Those are all things that are obviously looked at and that's why we study film and game plan. But again, we feel pretty good about everybody in that secondary room."

Now, the Packers are preparing for a completely different opponent this Sunday night in the Chicago Bears, who outfoxed San Francisco for a 19-10 upset victory in monsoon-like conditions at Soldier Field last weekend.

Former first-round pick Justin Fields completed only eight passes against the 49ers but two of them went for touchdowns, including an 18-yard pass to former Green Bay receiver Equanimeous St. Brown for the go-ahead score.

Where Cousins relies on play-action throws from the pocket, Fields often scrambles to extend plays. Fields had success with the approach as a rookie, developing synergy with 1,000-yard receiver Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet and dual-threat running back David Montgomery.

"You just want to keep him contained," said linebacker Preston Smith of Fields. "He's a guy who can make a lot of big plays with his feet. We know if we give him any running lanes, he'll take off and he can do some damage to an opposing defense."

The Packers had one sack of Cousins last Sunday, which came off a new look where their top two edge rushers, Smith and Rashan Gary, rushed together off the left side, while Clark played a wide technique on the opposite end.

On Sunday, the Packers' pass rush will look to copy the blueprint from last year when it dropped Fields six times in Green Bay's two wins. Fields ran for 117 yards on 15 carries, but completed just 34-of-60 passes (56.7%) for 398 yards with three TDs and three interceptions (72.8 passer rating).

The Packers know this won't be the same Bears offense, though. The unit is now coordinated by longtime Packers assistant coach Luke Getsy, who also serves as the Bears' primary play-caller.

Working in the Packers' favor is the fact promising rookie linebacker Quay Walker and dime cornerback Keisean Nixon both practiced this week after leaving Sunday's game with shoulder injuries.

After a disappointing start in Minnesota, the Packers' defense is motivated to prove it's still the same disruptive unit everyone believed it to be heading into the season.

"Every week is a new week," Clark said. "The Bears are coming off a really big win and we're coming off a tough loss, a division loss. We definitely have to get this one. It's the league. This is what it's all about, division games. The next one is the biggest one and we definitely have to be prepared for a team that's riding high off a win."


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