Packers at Bye: Midseason Defense

What more can you say than this: The Packers' defense is playing at a championship level at the bye. We have the bye week itinerary, star performer, unsung hero and some interesting quotes in our midseason review.

What is the definition of a championship defense?

Here are a few traits:

— It has to make plays. Along with a league-leading 28 sacks, the Packers have forced 10 turnovers over the last three weeks.

— It has to defy the odds. The offense has turned over the ball 13 times. Forced onto the field, the defense has yielded merely 22 points: one touchdown and five field goals.

— And, needless to say, it must keep teams from scoring. After allowing seven points in the last two games, the Packers rank second in the NFL in scoring defense with 15.9 points allowed per game.

Check, check and check.

"The thing I think our guys have been is resilient, in terms of when we've had to rise to the occasion, we've risen to the occasion," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "And to me that's a sign of a good defense. Last year, our statistics were outstanding, but we weren't very good in adversity situations. When we had to go on the field when they returned a kickoff or a punt or we turned the ball over, we didn't respond real well to those situations. And to me, that's how you measure how good your defense is. I don't care if we go out there on the 1-yard line, we're going to find a way to make ‘em kick a field goal. We've done better in that. I think that's a matter of growing and becoming more confident. You can tell when guys go on the field and say, "Hey, we're going to find a way to get stop.' As opposed to, ‘Oh, (no), here we go again.'"

By the numbers

The Packers rank 14th in the NFL in total defense (326.0 yards allowed per game, including 20th against the run (114.2) and 11th against the pass (211.8). They rank second in scoring defense at 15.9 points per game. Last year, the Packers ranked second in total defense (284.4), including first against the run (83.3) and fifth against the pass (201.1). They ranked seventh in scoring defense at 18.6 points per game.

Bye week itinerary

The run defense has stiffened. The pass defense is getting after quarterbacks and getting the ball. What's left to do?

For one, it's getting new outside linebackers Erik Walden and Diyral Briggs and new defensive lineman Howard Green up to speed with the playbook. Capers will need to create some new wrinkles with a defining two-game stretch of dome games against Brett Favre and the Vikings and Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Win those games, and the Packers can set their sights on homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Lose those games, and they're going to be in a fight just to get to the playoffs. And Capers pointed to third down, where the Packers rank 25th by allowing conversions 41 percent of the time.

Star performer


Matthews (52) and Raji (90) drill Barber.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Clay Matthews: Who else, with Matthews leading the NFL with 10.5 sacks. And don't forget the timely plays. Against Minnesota, he drew a facemask penalty that moved the Vikings back to the 35-yard line in the final minute. And against the Jets, his sack essentially wrapped up the game.

"It's hard in this league for a defensive player to get the overall MVP. But if anybody is capable of doing it, it's Clay," reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson said. "If anybody is out there looking at football, you know what he means to our team, and there's no reason why he couldn't."

Unsung hero

B.J. Raji: Because Matthews is the playmaking gem of the Packers' 2009 draft class, Raji figures to fly under the radar for the rest of his career. But with Ryan Pickett barely playing a dozen snaps over the last five games, Cullen Jenkins missing one game and Mike Neal and Justin Harrell on injured reserve, Raji has been a warrior in playing about 85 percent of the defensive snaps at a position that gets double-teamed on practically every play.

"I would love to rush up the field and play like the Chicago Bears, but that's not what this defense is designed to do," Raji said. "So, a part of being a professional is knowing your role, and playing within your role. And that's what I'm trying to do, and I believe I've done a pretty good job of that."

Need more from

Cullen Jenkins: Jenkins started the season with a bang, with a sack in each of the first four games and 11 quarterback hits in the first five games. Since then, he has no sacks and two quarterback hits. The Packers need a complement to Matthews and Jenkins is the defense's second-best rusher.

Coach-speak

Capers: "We'd like to lead the league in scoring defense, so I think we were second through nine games. We're in striking distance of that goal. And takeaway/giveaway has always been important to us. Last year, we were able to get 40 takeaways, and so right now I think we're tied for first in interceptions and I think we're first in sacks. Another area, our run defensive stats aren't close to what they were last year, but I think our run defense is better than what the stats indicate. If you look, I think yards against us on first down, I think we're third in the league, and that influences so much of what you can do on second down if you can get in predictable situations. I think the game (against Dallas) was a great indication of that."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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