Maybe it was the rust from the bye week.
Maybe it was the seven drops, or the 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown given up in the closing seconds of the first half.
Maybe it was 14-year veteran Charles Woodson not knowing who his man-assignment was on multiple occasions.
Whatever it was, those were not the Green Bay Packers I’ve come to know on the field this Sunday against the New York Giants.
The 37-20 divisional loss at Lambeau was a reality check for the Pack in many ways.
However, I think the most significant void Green Bay has to address is something they’ve been missing all season, and might be the true source of their one-and-done performance in the playoffs.
Last offseason the Packers decided not to resign the pro-bowl 3-4 defensive end and I believe that decision has been what Dom Capers’ defense has been missing this whole season. It’s what made them go from a championship-caliber unit, to a yards-bleeding sack of chumps.
Seriously, watching the defense on third-down this season was like standing behind a cow and yanking its tail: you just knew you were about to get kicked in the groin.
The Packers decided to let Jenkins go in free agency because they’re a small-market team. They live off the draft and don’t believe in shelling out a lot of money for big names.
This season they thought 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal had developed enough to replace Jenkins’ presence.
The problem is Neal was injured this season.
Ever since he arrived in Green Bay he has been about as durable as a glass-piñata. A team that was so plagued by injuries last season should have learned that your roster can never have too much depth.
But general manager Ted Thompson’s small-market strategy is hard to argue with because, firstly, it won a Super Bowl last year, and secondly, I believe 99 percent of the personnel decisions Thompson makes are solid gold.
Nevertheless, I’m going to take a page out of Occupy Wall Street’s playbook and give the business to the 1 percent (warning: that pun works in two ways).
Without Jenkins, the Packers regular season sack total went from being second best in the league last year (47) to tied for 27th this season (29). Clay Matthews' (cq) sack total went from 13.5 to 6. B.J. Raji —6.5 to 3.
Defensive ends who play in a 3-4 defense rarely have a gift for rushing the passer. In a 3-4, ends need to be bigger in order to eat-up blocks for the linebackers to roam around, and because they’re bigger, they usually don’t have enough speed to create a consistent pass rush. Jenkins was a rare breed.
He is a 3-4 end who could stop the run and rush the passer. Last season he had 7 sacks in just eleven games.
Capers defense is built on chaos and confusion.
The Pack blitz from every angle, confuse the quarterback, allow aggressive play-making corner’s to jump routes and get picks.
Successful execution of this defense results in plenty of sacks and interceptions. And though the Pack led the league with 31 interceptions, the lack of a pass rush was the reason they gave up more single-season passing yards than any defense in the history of the NFL.
Look for the Packer’s to use their early draft picks on a Cullen Jenkins-prototype end, and another outside linebacker to compliment and free up Matthews.