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Packers' defense pays for lack of pre-snap urgency

Head Coach Matt LaFleur reviews several regrets from London loss to Giants

Packers' defense
Packers' defense

GREEN BAY – Head Coach Matt LaFleur put his finger Monday on at least one reason for the Packers' maddening inconsistency on defense.

A day after a frustrating loss to the Giants and long flight home from London, LaFleur began an extended session with the media by lamenting how often the game film showed Packers defenders not getting to their pre-snap positions in a timely manner.

It was particularly pronounced on some of the crossing routes when the Giants gashed the Packers for big gains. LaFleur felt when the defense got out of the huddle and in position quickly, it was "all over" the crossers with "glovey" coverage.

Other times, it was the opposite both pre- and post-snap, and big plays by receiver Darius Slayton and running back Saquon Barkley resulted as they got separation moving across the field.

"No. 1 is, I just think the urgency to get lined up and get ready to play," LaFleur said. "We have to have better focus down in and down out, and making sure you truly have to take it one play at a time. When we do that, we look pretty good. When we don't, we look like we did yesterday and we get beat."

He did suggest the defense also could have challenged the Giants receivers more at the line of scrimmage, as they were functioning with a makeshift group due to injuries.

But the absence of urgency, especially after the defense started strong with a pair of three-and-outs, clearly bothered him more. He emphasized it has to come from both coordinator Joe Barry getting the call in, and the players hustling to their spots once the call is communicated.

It sounds simple, but it's important because the sooner the players are in position, the more time they have to read the offensive formation for any tells or clues as to what might be coming.

"If you allow your defenders … time to process that, you might have a better chance to go out there and play at a higher level," LaFleur said.

To see those breakdowns was disheartening because LaFleur felt the defense did a solid job defending the Barkley-led running attack, as other than a 40-yarder out of a wildcat formation, the league's leading rusher had just 30 yards on his other 12 carries.

The additional regrets were a pair of defensive holding calls wiping out sacks that occurred on the first play of two different New York drives, dramatically changing the two sequences. The Giants went on to get 10 points on those series.

"I just think the whole game has a different feel to it if it's second-and-20 in both those situations," LaFleur said. "I'm not trying to make excuses … Bottom line is we absolutely have to play better than that."

The same goes for the offense, which was just as inconsistent but in a different fashion, scoring 20 points in the first half and then getting blanked in the second half.

While any number of moments proved critical – the third-down sack taking the Packers out of field-goal range in the third quarter, and the consecutive batted passes on third and fourth down inside the New York 10-yard line late in the game obviously qualify – LaFleur provided the most detailed explanation on the heavily scrutinized all-passing three-and-out that followed the Giants' tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

On first down, the Giants were in a single-high safety look, and he wanted to attack it, but Allen Lazard got bumped off his route on the right side without an illegal contact flag being thrown.

On second down, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had the choice to run or throw based on the defensive look, and he turned to an in-breaking route by Cobb that had converted a crucial third-and-1 in overtime the previous week against the Patriots. They'd also run that same concept, which LaFleur referred to as a "premier play," to Romeo Doubs earlier in the game for a 22-yard gain, but this time a slightly high throw went off Cobb's hands incomplete.

"Now you're sitting in third-and-10," LaFleur said. "And I understand that, going into it, you're going to have to stand up here today and answer for that, and I'm perfectly fine with that, as long as our process and our thought process is in the right spot. Unfortunately, from a results standpoint, it didn't work out."

The all-pass sequence looks even worse when by game's end, running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon have combined for just 19 carries despite averaging 5.1 yards per rush. The "run solutions," which are quick horizontal throws at Rodgers' discretion that moved the ball effectively throughout the game, certainly took opportunities away from the backs.

LaFleur also admitted he has to be more mindful of how often his 1-2 punch in the backfield is actually getting the ball, not just how many plays were called for them that might've changed on the spot.

"But I don't think one sequence or one play was the deciding factor in that game," he said. "Just the consistency with which we played, or lacked in the second half is why we lost the game."

Ultimately, when things started going south, the offense didn't pick up the defense, nor vice versa, to stem the tide as the Giants' comeback gained serious steam.

"When you're up on a team 17-3 at one point in the game, … you have to put a team like that away. And we didn't," LaFleur said. "We let them hang around, and we all know how this momentum game works in our league. Once it starts flipping, it doesn't matter who you're playing. It's real, it happens. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of that."