Packers looking to ‘clean up’ issues on defense

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GREEN BAY – For as efficient and explosive as the Packers’ offense was on Sunday, the defense struggled to hold up its end until the fourth quarter.

For the third straight game, allowing big gains was a problem for Green Bay’s defense, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur is pointing toward smoothing out all the defensive communication to get things squared away.

Two weeks ago in Dallas, the Cowboys put together a barrage of big plays in the second half in rallying from a huge deficit. Last week, the Lions began the game with a pair of deep throws that led to 10 quick points.

On Sunday, the Raiders posted five plays of more than 25 yards and several others with gains in the teens on their way to 484 total yards. Gifted a turnover late in the first half, the defense then got two key red-zone stops in the fourth quarter to preserve Green Bay’s big lead.

But the 484 total yards, mostly on big plays, are more than defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit gave up in any one game in 2018. Only the recent Dallas game in Week 5 was worse (563).

“There are some things we definitely have to clean up on the defensive side of the ball,” LaFleur said on Monday. “We gave up way too many explosives.

“There were a few times we have to do a better job of getting our guys in the game, getting our calls in, communicated, just to give our guys a better chance to line up and see what’s going on in order for them to execute at the highest level.”

LaFleur regretted not calling a timeout when the defense was caught with 12 players on the field. Another example of a communication snafu came in the third quarter, not on a big play, but on Oakland tight end Darren Waller’s 7-yard TD catch.

The Packers had multiple defenders looking around at the snap making adjustments, which left players out of position as Waller was wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy score.

“That’s just one of those, whatever call is made on the field, we have to play the call instead of trying to get perfectly aligned,” LaFleur said. “I mean, we were already set and we had guys flip-flopping. You just don’t give yourself any chance to go out and execute when you do stuff like that.”

Execution needs to pick up on special teams, too. The Packers are getting beat statistically in the return game by a wide margin.

Oakland’s Trevor Davis ran back a punt 32 yards Sunday, boosting the opponents’ season average on punt returns to a healthy 9.2. Green Bay’s average is minus-1.6, with one turnover and no single return longer than a yard.

On kickoffs, opponents are averaging 31.4 yards per return, with two allowed of 60-plus this year. The Packers are averaging 17.2 with a long of 25.

“We’ve got to do a better job,” LaFleur said. “That was disappointing we didn’t lock down the return units (vs. Oakland). We need to do more. We need to coach it better and we need to get better play as well.”

So there are certainly areas for improvement as the Packers take their 6-1 record on the road for four of the next five contests, beginning with a Sunday night game at Kansas City.

LaFleur will continue to preach one play and one game at a time with a 1-0 weekly mentality, no matter how much the opposition gears itself up for a team that’s attracting a brighter spotlight with each win.

“I just think that’s this league,” LaFleur said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given week, so you better bring your A game each and every time you step out on that field.

“We’re just going to keep focusing on our process, how we go about our business, how we focus, how connected we can be as a football team. But I like what these guys are about.”

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