After the Green Bay Packers' 45-7 throttling of the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, Charles Woodson wore an ear-to-ear grin after a defense he had called a "liability" a week earlier suddenly looked like a championship-caliber unit.
"Had a brief conversation and talked about a few things," Woodson said of an early-week chat with Capers. "I think tonight, we got a little bit more of what we like as a defense with the guys that we have and getting after it. If you looked out there tonight, guys had fun, and it's all determined on how that game is called. When Dom calls it that way, guys pin their ears back and we go play football."
Not every coach would be so receptive to an opinionated and strong-willed player's thoughts and suggestions. Heck, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn't allow Jay Cutler to audible at the line of scrimmage.
Woodson wouldn't go into detail about the conversation. He didn't have to. It's safe to assume that Woodson suggested Capers turn the dogs loose. The result? Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder never had a prayer. The Packers sent at least five defenders on almost 75 percent of the defensive snaps, with Woodson coming up the middle with great effect.
"I encourage that, and it's not like it's the first time Charles and I talk," Capers said on Tuesday. "We talk every week. I always ask him how he's feeling physically, how he's feeling about the game plan and those types of things. And Charles, being a veteran player, normally his insights I think are good insights. That's a healthy situation to have."
Three weeks after Ponder had a chance to rally the Vikings from a 33-17 deficit in his first NFL start, he was held to a passer rating of just 52.3. The Packers had been allowing almost 300 passing yards per game but gave up merely 190. He was sacked three times and converted just 1-of-5 third downs as the Packers stepped on the gas in the second half.
Unofficially,Woodson blitzed nine times, recorded four pressures and deflected two passes at the line of scrimmage. Clay Matthews had his first two-sack game of the season. Desmond Bishop had a sack and two additional quarterback hits.
"One of the things that I've always felt is this: The players have to go out and play on Sunday and our job as coaches is to attempt to take as much gray area of things as we possibly can, because the game is such a fast game," Capers said. "If there's anything they don't feel totally comfortable with, then you're probably better off not doing it. I ask all the time, ‘How are we doing? Are we confident with what we're doing?' If there's anything that comes up that we aren't totally confident in then I normally stay away from it because I just think you're asking for problems."
To be sure, the Vikings aren't exactly overflowing with talent on offense. Adrian Peterson is the best running back on the planet and Visanthe Shiancoe is a small step down from Jermichael Finley. But aside from Percy Harvin, none of Minnesota's receivers would play a single snap for the Packers. Ponder, the Vikings' first-round pick, is a rookie, and the offensive line isn't exactly a dominant unit.
Still, for the NFL's 30th-ranked unit — which had allowed 424, 435 and 460 yards in consecutive weeks — this was perhaps a season-changing performance.
"Now, the standard has been set," Woodson said.
In many ways, it was reminiscent of what happened at this point last season.
After the Packers held off the Vikings 28-24 in Week 7 of last season, opponents were averaging 19.4 points per game.
Then came one of the defining victories of the year, a 9-0 win at the New York Jets. They followed that up with a prime-time victory over Dallas. The score? Exactly the same as Monday night's over the Vikings: 45-7. Finally, there was a 31-3 blowout at Minnesota.
Highlighted by those three games, the Packers allowed merely 104 points over the final nine games, surged into the playoffs and claimed their fourth Super Bowl championship.
"We kind of found our niche," Capers said when asked about last year's midseason turnaround. "I think that happens with teams. You've got to modify and adjust what you're doing to the people you've got to do it out there. That's what coaching's all about. As you go along and get a feel for what you're doing well and what you're not doing well, you try to improve the things that you're not doing well and you go with what's working well for you. Some games it works a little bit better than others. Last night, it worked. Now, the challenge is can we go out and make it work this week and make it work better. It's nice to see the guys go out and play more like we want to play on defense."
Matthews hoped this was a sign of things to come.
"We had to take a look in the mirror and understand what we wanted to accomplish and where we wanted to go," Matthews said after the game. "This was going to be a big game, a big test. And I think we responded brilliantly. We came out and played the scheme to perfection; guys stepped up and made plays. Even beyond changing schemes and finding different ways to create pressure or create turnovers or stop a defense, players just really did their job tonight, and that's ultimately what this defense comes down to."
And, as Woodson said, having fun. And when Capers is blitzing and the players are attacking, they're having fun.
Not to mention taking their season-long frustrations out on a rival.
"We were mad," Woodson said. "We were mad about the way we've been performing. Not holding up, like I always say, our end of the bargain. The way our offense has been playing week-in and week-out, carrying this team, we want to be a part of that, too. We don't want it just to be one-sided. Tonight was just fun. It's the way we love to play football. Big win."
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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.