|Green Bay's porous pass defense allowed Vincent Jackson to score three times. (US Presswire)|
SAN DIEGO -- The Green Bay Packers are off to their best start in decades, have the best quarterback anywhere and appear on course for another Lombardi Trophy. So it's only fair to ask if there's anyone out there who can beat them, and, yeah, as a matter of fact, I can think of someone.
The Green Bay Packers.
While they're 8-0 and a virtual slam dunk for their first NFC North championship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they aren't guaranteed another Super Bowl appearance ... and I can tell you why in one word.
Defense. There's not enough of it.
Not this year there's not, and nowhere was that more apparent than in its latest victory -- a 45-38 track meet with San Diego, where Green Bay nearly blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead.
Yeah, I know the Packers made critical stops on the Bolts' last two series and produced three interceptions throughout -- two of which were returned for touchdowns and a third that choked off San Diego's last drive. But they hemorrhage way too many yards and too many points.
For the moment, that's not an issue because Rodgers is playing at such a high level -- producing his eighth straight game with a passer rating of 111 or better. But it will be when they meet someone who doesn't roll over.
I don't know who that someone is, but if I were Green Bay I'd worry about Philadelphia. That's the one team out there that has the speed to match up with these guys, plus a quarterback who know what it's like to go to Lambeau Field in the playoffs and win.
Granted, the Eagles may not make the playoffs. I mean, they're 3-4. But they seem to have found themselves with last week's demolition of Dallas, and, if so, Green Bay has someone other than itself to worry about. Still, Philadelphia or no Philadelphia, Green Bay must clean up a porous pass defense that was just beaten for four more touchdown passes and that ranked 31st prior to Sunday.
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"We've got to go soul searching and get it together," said cornerback Tramon Williams.
That's one way of putting it. Another is that they must become the unit they were a year ago when -- with starters hurt or absent -- the Packers somehow found a way to pull together down the stretch and win their last six starts. Defense was the key, with Green Bay allowing no more than seven points in five of its last nine regular-season starts -– including a 10-3 defeat of Chicago in the finale that put the Packers in the playoffs.
But that was then, and this is now, and now the Packers aren't the same. Five times they've been shredded for 400 or more yards -- including three games of 460 or more -- and they've already allowed 16 passing touchdowns. That might not seem like a big deal, except they allowed 16 all season in 2010. Now, maybe you understand why the Packers can't get too comfortable being on top.
Nobody makes too much of their shortcomings because, well, the Packers are the best team in the game, and nobody has found a way to stop Rodgers. But someone will ... somewhere, at some time ... and then what? Well, then they better not play as they did in the fourth quarter Sunday when a 45-24 lead suddenly shrunk to a seven-point spread.
"That's been us the whole year," said Williams, "and I know it's a broken record, [saying] that you want to come out and correct it. But guys are playing their assignments, and we know our assignments. But sometimes guys aren't where they're supposed to be. Hopefully, we can correct that.
"I always say that there's going to be a game where our offense is not going to perform like everyone expects it to, and we'll have to be the ones to bail them out. I think when that time comes we'll be able to do that.
"Obviously, the offense is hot right now, and they're carrying the load, no doubt about it. But there's going to be a time where we have to step up and play a more consistent game, and I think we'll be able to do that."
They better. Because there are NFC offenses out there waiting on them in the playoffs. New Orleans should be one, finishing a yard shy of a potential game-tying touchdown vs. Green Bay in the season opener. But the Saints don't have the defense to check Rodgers. Philadelphia might. In fact, Philadelphia should, and that's where there could be concern.
Look, it's hard to ignore Sunday's results, and Sunday's results were these: The Packers won another road game, kept their record unblemished, gained another marvelous game from its quarterback and made just enough big plays on defense to win. But that defense also allowed a raft of big plays -- enough to lose on another afternoon -- and don't tell me that shouldn't bother these guys, because it does.
"You love it when [Rodgers and the offense excel] when your defense is stinking it up," said cornerback Charles Woodson. "To have those guys perform the way they're performing week in and week out is definitely advantage, Packers. But to have us -- on our end -- continue to fold and allow teams back in the game, we can only ask so much.
"We're all professional and consider ourselves a good defense –- or supposedly a good defense -- but there are a lot of things we got to do better. We're 8-0, and happy about that. No question. But we're disappointed from a defensive standpoint."
Maybe that's the best way to describe what's going on with this defense –- disappointing. Every team out there has holes, and the Packers have fewer than anyone. But they must shore up a pass defense that gets exploited weekly, otherwise suffer the consequences. They have the players. They have one of the game's premier coordinators in Dom Capers. And they have time to plug the leaks.
But they must get results.
"We're not going to turn a blind eye to the negatives that went on today," said coach Mike McCarthy. "But we're 8-0. That's the facts. And 5-0 on the road. That's huge. We're excited about that."
They should be. But be careful, fellas. There's danger ahead.