The Green Bay Packers are 6-0, and while their defense is giving up yards by the bushel, they haven't allowed a touchdown in more than 102 minutes of game action after the Atlanta Falcons started the Week 5 game with back-to-back touchdowns.
"You'd like to go and shut people down to where they don't get yards and points. If we have to pick between one or the other, we'll take the points part of it," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday.
Capers' defense got the points part of things figured out on Sunday against St. Louis.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who entered the game ranked 31st in passer rating and 32nd in completion percentage, had a big game against the Packers' beleaguered secondary. He completed 28-of-44 passes for 321 yards — his 63.6 percent accuracy his best of the season. With a healthy Steven Jackson showing his lethal combination of power and speed by gouging the Packers for 96 yards, St. Louis wound up with season highs of 424 yards and 22 first downs.
In the end, none of it mattered. The Packers strolled to a never-in-doubt 24-3 victory. By week's end, Green Bay ranks 23rd in total defense and 30th against the pass — but tied for seventh in points allowed.
"I knew they'd made some plays on us," Capers said. "At the end of every series, I go back and critique the series – what we've done, what we haven't done – so you can communicate with the sideline. The (two) thing(s) that I liked (were): We continue to play well in the red area and we did probably our best job on possession downs."
The Packers held the Rams to a miserable 3-of-13 on third down and 1-of-4 on fourth down. That was a big improvement for a defense that entered the weekend ranked 25th in third-down defense by allowing first downs 44.3 percent of the time.
The first two of those stops proved vital as the Packers took control.
On the first drive of the game, the Rams faced a third-and-11 from the Packers' 28. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a draw to Jackson, hoping to get a few extra yards to make for an easier field goal into the swirling and gusting Lambeau Field wind. Instead, Charlie Peprah helped drop Jackson for a 1-yard loss and the Rams missed the field goal.
On a fourth-and-3 from the Packers' 41 late in the first quarter, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo went for the first down. Bradford went deep to Danario Alexander but Tramon Williams was in position and the ball fell incomplete. That fourth-down stand jump-started the Packers' three-touchdown assault.
In the fourth quarter, with the game in hand, Austin Pettis' 39-yard punt return set up the Rams at the Packers' 37, but the defense held on fourth-and-6 from the 15. Later, the Rams took over at their 49 after an interception but Clay Matthews sacked Bradford on fourth-and-12 from the Packers' 34.
The Packers have played good red zone defense all season — entering the weekend ranked 11th by allowing touchdowns 44.4 percent of the time. On Sunday, the Rams went 0-for-3 in the red zone — including Sam Shields' end-zone interception in the third quarter — pushing Green Bay to a fourth-ranked 38.1 percent.
Even Capers admits he's worried that, at some point, all of those yards will be turned into points. Three of five opponents have put up at least 400 yards, with a fourth opponent getting 384. Only two teams topped 400 yards in 20 games last season — none in the final 13.
"I think you don't want to put people down in (the red zone) too many times," Capers said. "That's why the positive part of it yesterday was getting off the field on third and fourth down."
Of course, a prolific Packers offense is having an impact on the defensive numbers. With Green Bay leading the league in scoring, the opposing offense has to keep pace. That means a lot of passing and, as a byproduct, a lot of passing yards. Not only are the Packers playing soft because of situation, but the shoulder injury sustained by Williams in the opener has limited his bump-and-run ability and ability to be physical. As he heals, the defense should improve.
"That's the quickest way to score is you've got to try to throw the ball," cornerback Charles Woodson said on Sunday. "When you're playing our offense, you have to assume they're going to put up points. When you're down 24-3, you've got to try to match that somehow."
Added Williams: "You don't want teams to put that many yards on you (but) sometimes, it just goes that way. It may go to the way the game is flowing. You're up by this much, you don't want to give up big plays and you let them chip away. We never felt threatened. They got 400 but it didn't seem like it."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.