After making recent strides, Packers run defense takes big step backward in loss to Steelers

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — For a couple of weeks, it seemed as though the Green Bay Packers had turned one of their biggest weaknesses into a strength.

But the run defense issues that have bothered the Packers for much of coach Matt LaFleur’s five-year tenure have resurfaced.

The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed for 205 yards and gained 5.7 yards per carry Sunday in a 23-19 victory over the Packers, who have now given up at least 200 yards rushing three times this season.

“It was a combination of missed tackles, missed assignments,” LaFleur said Monday. “There were a couple times where we were playing single-high defense where it’s solo gap football and you got two guys in one gap. There were a couple times where they got us in some two-safety looks, and when you do that, you’re going to be a little bit short in terms of your front, and they took what should be 5-, 6-, 7-yard gains and they made them into explosion plays.”

The Packers (3-6) had allowed a total of 130 yards rushing on 57 carries in the two games leading up to Sunday. They gave up 68 yards on 26 carries in a 20-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams last week after alowing 62 yards rushing on 31 attempts in a 24-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

“Well, it’s the National Football League,” LaFleur said. “You can’t rest on what you’ve done lately. Every game’s a new challenge, and you’ve got to have a good plan for that.”

The Packers failed to meet this challenge.

Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Warren ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts, while Najee Harris had 16 carries for 82 yards and a score.

They made Green Bay’s defense look more like it had earlier this season, when it allowed both the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions to rush for 211 yards.

“Everybody just needs to play sound and just play how we need to play,” outside linebacker Rashan Gary said after the game. “Everybody knows the standard. Everybody knows what it looks like. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Green Bay’s offense produced some of the big plays that had been missing for much of the season. AJ Dillon had a 40-yard run. Jordan Love had completions of 46 yards to Jayden Reed, 36 yards to Luke Musgrave and 32 yards to Dontayvion Wicks. … Even with an injury-filled secondary, the Packers have done a nice job of pass defense the past couple of weeks. They gave up 126 yards passing Sunday after allowing 130 yards passing against the Rams. Of course, that also came against Kenny Pickett on Sunday and Brett Rypien a week earlier. Green Bay’s next game offers a much tougher test with Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers coming to Lambeau Field.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Green Bay has scored touchdowns on just two of its nine trips to the red zone over its past two games. The Packers had one touchdown on five trips inside the 20 on Sunday. They settled for field goals twice after driving inside the 15, then Love threw interceptions on Green Bay’s final two series.

“Quite frankly, if you want to be a good red zone team, you typically have to run the ball effectively down there and we had a couple (opportunities),” LaFleur said.

“We weren’t as effective and it puts you in some third down situations, and it’s always a struggle down there on third down. So I think it starts with our run game.”

STOCK UP

Reed had five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. The rookie second-round pick has at least 83 yards receiving in two of his past three games. … OLB Preston Smith had a sack Sunday and has five over his past five games. … CB Corey Ballentine performed capably while making his first start since 2020.

STOCK DOWN

RB Aaron Jones gained just 35 yards on 13 carries and cost the Packers valuable time on their final drive when he cut inside rather than going out of bounds after making a short catch. … WR Christian Watson was targeted seven times but caught just two passes for 23 yards. Watson hasn’t totaled more than 37 yards receiving in any of his past four games.

INJURIES

OT Yosh Nijman (back), CB Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and LB Quay Walker (groin) didn’t play. This was the second straight game Walker has missed.

KEY NUMBER

289 — Love threw for a career-high 289 yards and nearly had the first 300-yard passing performance by a Packers quarterback in 23 months. No Green Bay player has thrown for 300 yards in a game since Aaron Rodgers had 341 yards passing in a 45-30 victory over the Chicago Bears on Dec. 12, 2021.

NEXT STEPS

The Packers will be busy for the next 1½ weeks as they host the Chargers on Sunday before heading to Detroit for a Thanksgiving game.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL