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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Now that they’ve moved a step closer to earning the NFC’s lone first-round playoff bye, it’s becoming apparent the Green Bay Packers don’t merely need that extra week to get healthier.
They also could use more time to shore up their suddenly leaky run defense before starting postseason play.
The NFC North champions have won four straight games thanks in part to their defense’s penchant for forcing turnovers, which continued Saturday when they intercepted Baker Mayfield four times. The Packers (12-3) needed every one of those takeaways to pull out a 24-22 victory over the Cleveland Browns because they allowed Nick Chubb to run wild.
After the game, Packers coach Matt LaFleur called it “probably our worst performance tackling this season.” It’s an issue that the Packers must address as they prepare for a Sunday night home game with the Minnesota Vikings (7-8).
“(Chubb’s) a powerful guy that can make people miss and can run through tackles,” LaFleur said Monday. “When you’re not perfect, you get exposed. We’ll have our work cut out for us against the Vikings because they’re very similar. They’ve got multiple backs that are really, really talented, and they’re pretty good up front, so I’m sure it’s going to be a big week of work for us to get all that corrected so it doesn’t happen again.”
The Browns ran the ball 25 times for 219 yards, the highest rushing total the Packers have allowed since giving up 285 yards on the ground in a 37-20 NFC championship game loss to the San Francisco 49ers two seasons ago.
Green Bay hadn’t yielded more than 219 yards rushing in a regular-season game since Sept. 28, 2014, when the Packers gave up 235 yards on 41 carries in a 38-17 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Through their first 12 games of the season, the Packers were allowing 102.5 yards rushing per game and 4.3 yards per carry. Over their last three games, they’ve given up 166.3 yards rushing per game and 6.7 yards per carry. Each of their last three opponents has rushed for at least 137 yards.
“I just think we’ve got to get back to playing everybody doing their 1/11th and not trying to make a play and press,” LaFleur said. “I think a lot of times when we do that, we get ourselves out of position. We need all 11 functioning as one on every play, and if you don’t, then it leads to inconsistencies. And when you’re doing that against good teams, you’re going to give up a lot of plays.”
The Packers still have reason to feel good about themselves.
With two weeks left in the regular season, they’re one game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the race to earn the NFC’s top seed. T hey’ve forced at least three takeaways in three of their last four games and lead the NFL with a plus-16 turnover margin.
But that defense must get back to stopping offenses even when it isn’t producing turnovers.
“We have yet to play our perfect game in the front, the backers or our safeties and corners,” outside linebacker Rashan Gary said. “Once we come together and play our perfect game, it’s going to be hard to stop.”
Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams continue to form the NFL’s most dynamic pass-catch combination. ... The Packers recorded five sacks while not allowing any. ... The pass defense forced Mayfield into one of the worst performances of his career.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
As mentioned earlier, the run defense is the biggest area the Packers must address.
Rodgers became the Packers’ career leader in touchdown passes (445) on Saturday. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes without an interception over his last five games. ... Adams has seven touchdown catches over his last five games. ... CB Rasul Douglas had two interceptions Saturday and has four over his last four games. ... Gary recorded two sacks and has five over his last six games.
DL Kingsley Keke was left inactive even though he hadn’t been listed on the injury report.
OG Ben Braden, LB Tipa Galeai, WR/PR Amari Rodgers and LB Ty Summers all went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. ... RB Aaron Jones limped to the sideline late in Saturday’s game. “I believe he will be OK,” LaFleur said Monday. “We’ll just see how he works through everything over the next two days.”
5 — Rodgers has thrown multiple touchdown passes without an interception in five straight games. That matches the longest such streak in franchise history. Rodgers also threw multiple touchdown passes without an interception in five straight in 2014.
The Packers host the Vikings on Sunday night before closing the regular season at Detroit on Jan. 9. The Vikings still have an outside chance of reaching the playoffs.
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Steve Megargee, The Associated Press