Is the Packers’ once resurgent defense now breaking?

For most of the season, it looked like the Green Bay Packers defense had put their bend-but-don’t-break style of play made famous under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine behind them. However, that unsettling mantra has returned to the forefront in the past month.

It all started in Week 11 against a divisional foe in the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers surrendered 341 yards through the air to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who would lead his team down on the final drive to kick the game-winning field and hand Green Bay their third loss of the season.

The following week, the Packers delivered a convincing win over the Los Angeles Rams. However, after leading by 19 entering the fourth quarter, Green Bay opened a small window for Los Angeles to only lose by eight. Of course, the Rams did have a ton of talent on offense, including a prolific quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a star receiver in Cooper Kupp.

In Week 14, curiosity turned to legitimate concern when the Packers allowed 30 points to a feeble Chicago Bears offense. Green Bay still went on to win by double digits but allowing 30 points to an offense led by a rookie quarterback was borderline inexcusable.

The Packers had a chance to gain some confidence back against an ailing Baltimore Ravens team. Missing multiple key starters on defense and their leader at quarterback in Lamar Jackson, Green Bay entered as 8.5-point favorites as the away team. Aaron Rodgers played brilliantly, as he has done consistently throughout this poor stretch from the defense, but the defense wavered. The Packers led by 14 with under 10 minutes left in the game. However, the Ravens managed to make it a one-point game thanks to the arm and legs of backup Tyler Huntley.

Huntley led the offense right down the field on back-to-back drives with the chance to tie the game in the final moments. However, knowing that Rodgers was eagerly awaiting to get the ball back with 42 seconds remaining, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh elected to go for two and possibly win in regulation rather than play for overtime. Needing only one stop, Green Bay’s defense came through by breaking up a pass intended for tight end Mark Andrews, who finished the game with 10 receptions, 136 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.

The Packers squeaked by, but it was yet another uninspiring defensive performance similar to the one just a few weeks prior against the Rams.

On a night in which Green Bay should have celebrated Rodgers’ recording-breaking touchdown pass with a comfortable win over the Cleveland Browns, instead, they were left sweating it out until the bitter end. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw four interceptions to an opportunistic Packers defense. However, Nick Chubb became the first 100-yard rusher this defense has seen all season. Poor tackling and a poor game plan to stop the run helped Cleveland rack up 219 yards on the ground- by far the most this defense has conceded all year.

Green Bay could have easily lost their fourth game of the season if not for another clutch moment from corner Rasul Douglas. He may have gotten away with a penalty in the process, but the Pro Bowl alternate hauled in Mayfield’s final pick with less than a minute left and the Browns offense past midfield.

“To a certain extent, we got lucky,” wide receiver Davante Adams said after the game.

Adams’ words could have easily applied to how this team – more so the defense – has played in their last five games.

Wins are wins no matter how you get them, but this team once ranked third in total defense has fallen to 13th over the past month. This sharp decline mostly lands on Joe Barry. Once viewed as this defense’s savior, Barry now reminds this fanbase of his underachieving predecessor and an unfavored passive approach that led to a coaching change.

For some reason that can’t be explained, the corners are opting to play far off the ball on short-yardage distances rather than challenge opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage as they did earlier in the season. Meanwhile, tackling has become an issue, and so has this run defense, which has led to this team’s demise in recent years.

Perhaps, returning two All-Pros in Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith will help. However, no one knows when that will happen and both were a part of the defenses that bent to the point of breaking in the last two NFC Championship Games- more so the 2019 NFC Championship, which saw the San Francisco 49ers rush for 285 yards.

Maybe this defense will get back on track in time for the playoffs, or maybe they peaked too early.