After giving up 419 and 432 passing yards in consecutive weeks to New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Carolina’s Cam Newton, the Green Bay Packers' pass defense could be described charitably as questionable and more accurately as porous.
Still recovering from an uncomfortably close game against the Carolina Panthers, the Packers learned on Monday that Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins would miss the rest of the season after sustaining an unspecified neck injury on Sunday.
This news came on the heels of Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams missing the Carolina game after bruising his shoulder late in the fourth quarter of the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.
To see what kind of statistical impact these two defensive backs have on the Packers’ defense, let's look at some numbers from the Packers’ first two contests.
Brees shredded the Packers’ vaunted pass defense, which finished first in the league in opponent passer rating last season. With Pro Bowl defensive backs Williams, Collins and Charles Woodson in the lineup and Sam Shields playing all but four snaps, Brees had 25 completions in 38 attempts for 328 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 110.4.
When Williams injured his shoulder and left the game with 4:10 remaining, Brees completed 7-of-11 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown and a QB rating of 119.9. With Williams’ injury occurring late in the game, the sample size is small. Still, a difference in QB rating of nearly 10 points shows Williams’ impact on the game beyond his three tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery.
With Williams’ shoulder not at full strength, coach Mike McCarthy elected to sit him against the Panthers. Newton, the No. 1 pick in the draft, was coming off an eye-popping week against the Cardinals in which he passed for 422 yards. He started quickly against the Packers, completing 6-of-7 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown to lead the Panthers to a quick lead that would last through the half.
He cooled considerably from there, though. Despite putting up 342 passing yards after that first drive, Newton threw three interceptions and struggled in the red zone, allowing the Packers to rally,
But the question we're interested in is how Collins affected the game, right?
Before Collins left the game with 12:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, Newton completed 19-of-32 passes for 263 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. That computes to a 57.2 passer rating. After Collins left the game, Newton completed 9-of-14 passes for 169 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown. Those numbers come out to a QB rating of 106.0. That's a difference of 48.8. That's colossal. Those numbers indicate that Collins had an impact on the game far greater than the two tackles and one pass defensed shown in the box score.
To further amplify the point: If you take away the opening drive — after which the Packers made some adjustments — and the part of the game Collins was injured for, Newton's numbers come out to 13-of-25 for 173 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. That's a rating of 34.7. Ouch. And while that might seem like cherry-picking statistics, those numbers show how Newton performed against the Packers’ defense with Collins for 19:11 of the Panthers’ 32:34 time of possession. In other words, after a chance to make some adjustments and operating as close as possible to ideal personnel, the Packers’ defense held Newton to a rating of 34.7. Then, Collins got injured and everything went to hell.
Charlie Peprah will take Collins' place alongside Morgan Burnett next week against the Bears. He's no rookie, having started 11 games last year for the Super Bowl champions, but it seems unlikely that he'll have the same impact as Collins. With Jay Cutler on the schedule next weekend, McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have their defensive game-planning cut out for them.
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Richard Procter is a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.