Is Defense Poised for Second-Half Charge?

There are some encouraging signs and history is on their side — assuming they can overcome Charles Woodson's injury. Packer Report provides the analysis you won't find anywhere else.

In two of his first three seasons as the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator, Dom Capers' units got stronger as the season progressed.

In 2009, after back-to-back games of 38 points allowed against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the Packers allowed 17.9 points per game during the final seven games of the season.

In 2010, after holding off the Vikings at Lambeau Field in Week 7, the Packers allowed 11.6 points per game over the final nine contests.

The improvement didn't come last season — at least with any consistency. Over the final eight games, however, they did manage four games with less than 20 points allowed.

This year, with the offense clicking, Capers' hope is the defense will hit its second-half stride once again — even without Charles Woodson until mid-December. Sunday's 30-20 win at St. Louis, in which the Packers allowed 188 yards and six points in the first three quarters, was a step in that direction.

"When I talked to the defense today, to me, one of our goals was to go down and play our most complete game," Capers said on Monday. "I felt like, going into the fourth quarter, that we had a real chance to do that. They hit that big play on us and went down and got a score, but then we came back and we had a two-minute situation that was key and we stopped them on four downs and gave the offense the ball on the 28-yard line. But then, obviously, I would have liked to have seen us go out and finish the thing off and not have them get all of that yardage at the end.

"To me, what we have to do is we have to prove that we're capable of going out and playing four quarters like we did the first three quarters, because I thought we made some key plays to keep them out of the end zone. When you're on the road, if you can keep a team out of the end zone, especially with our offense, you've got a pretty good chance. I see signs, I think, that we can make those kind of strides but we still have to prove that we can do it."

The defense has made enormous strides since last year's record-setting debacle. While the scoring is about the same — down a fraction from 22.4 points per game to 22.1 — most of the other key numbers are trending in Green Bay's direction.

Last season, the Packers ranked 19th in points allowed, 32nd in total defense (411.8 yards per game), 14th in rushing (111.8), 32nd in passing (299.8), 30th in sacks (29), 26th on third down (42.6 percent conversion rate) and 20th in the red zone (55.4 percent touchdowns).

This season, the Packers are 13th in points allowed, 14th in total defense (359.9 yards per game), 17th in rushing (109.9), 17th in passing (232.4), first in sacks (24) and ninth on third down (36.8 percent conversion rate). The only real blight is red zone defense, where the Packers are 28th with 64.7 percent touchdowns.

Of course, the season-defining question is whether the defense can take another step forward with Woodson out for at least six weeks. The schedule, at least, should help.

Sunday's opponent, Jacksonville, ranks at or near the bottom in every meaningful offensive statistic, including a league-low 14.7 points per game. Next week's opponent, Arizona, ranks 27th with 17.7 points per game — including just 11.0 in the last three games. After that, the Packers will have their bye week, allowing Capers some time to sort out what he liked and what he didn't like against the Jaguars and Cardinals as he looks ahead to Detroit and the Giants.

With Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian having started games and the defense getting impact from fellow rookies Mike Daniels and Dezman Moses, Green Bay has gotten plenty of bang from its rookie buck.

For this team to do more than just survive without Woodson, the Packers will need rookies and inexperienced players like M.D. Jennings and Mike Neal to turn their flashes of talent into consistent production.

"I think it's going to make us a better football team as we move along," Capers said. "One thing about youth is they have a lot of energy. Basically, the biggest thing some of these guys have been lacking is time on the field and repetitions. You always know with that there's going to be some bumps in the road because they haven't seen everything that a Charles Woodson's seen. But they normally improve as you go along and as they get more comfortable and we get a better feel of what they're the best at doing and their capabilities, and you have to adapt. That's the nature of the game. It's a lot of adaptation from one week to the next based on who you're going to have up and how you think your strengths and weaknesses match up against your opponent."


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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.


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