From First Down to Third, Defense on the Rise

The Packers' suffocating first-down defense and run-stuffing prowess was a key to Sunday's win at Baltimore. Green Bay's defense is looking more and more like one of the league's elite units — never mind what the league rankings will tell you.

By the folly of how the NFL measures its offenses and defenses, Sunday's game won't look too good in the league rankings for the Green Bay Packers' defense.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 342 yards and the Ravens tallied 360 yards in all. Green Bay entered the day ranked 19th with 374.8 yards allowed per game, so Sunday's performance won't make much of a difference. In fact, the Packers will be going backward in passing defense after entering the day ranked 26th with 288.8 aerial yards allowed per game.

What did Mark Twain say about lies, damned lies and statistics?

All you need to do is look at Page 5 of Sunday's Gamebook. The Ravens' first 11 possessions ended with nine punts, a turnover on downs and a fumble.

You want more lies, damned lies and statistics?

For the day, Baltimore averaged a healthy 6.0 yards per first-down play. Sure, but that's salvaged by a 59-yard play in the third quarter. During the first half, the Ravens ran 13 first-down plays and gained just 21 yards. On 27 first-down plays for the game, the Ravens gained 0 yards or went backward 13 times. On 17 first-down plays, the Ravens gained 2 yards or less.

No wonder they went 2-of-14 on third downs. That's because they faced third-and-10 or longer nine times. Just once did they have a third-down play of less than 5 yards. That was a third-and-goal from the 1 in the first half. Morgan Burnett stuffed that run by Ray Rice. Even if he hadn't, Andy Mulumba drew a holding penalty. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, B.J. Raji stormed into the backfield, and Mike Daniels, Jamari Lattimore and Micah Hyde stuffed Bernard Pierce.

When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, it was Aaron Rodgers going to Disneyland but it was the defense that was Green Bay's version of the Magic Kingdom. En route to finishing second in the NFL in scoring defense, the Packers allowed 10 points or less six times. That unit made key plays that clinched three of the four playoff wins.

This defense isn't to that level. Takeaways, other than the first half at Cincinnati, have been few and far between. It hasn't slammed the door on an opponent yet. But the improvement from Week 1 is impressive for a unit that hasn't fielded its best group yet. Burnett, the leader of the secondary, missed the first three games. Casey Hayward, the all-rookie cornerback who led the team with six interceptions last season, hasn't played a snap. Clay Matthews has missed one-and-three-quarters games and will miss at least another two or three. Brad Jones is out, too.

No Matthews? The Packers got five sacks, anyway. No Jones? A.J. Hawk recorded three sacks and Hawk and Jamari Lattimore combined for seven tackles for losses.

The defense stuffed Ray Rice throughout the game.

Remember when the Packers' defense was deemed soft? Forget that. Running the football has been like sprinting into the side of Fort Knox. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson ran for 408 yards in two games against Green Bay last year. In five games this season, the Packers have allowed 391 rushing yards.

"We're tough. We're tough. I think we're real tough," defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "People don't understand, don't know how tough we are. We're tough physically and mentally. We have injuries, and the next guy steps up. That's what we expect."

For all the accolades Rodgers has earned, football is the ultimate team game. When one unit slips, another unit is supposed to step up. Without Randall Cobb and James Jones, the Packers' offensive options are limited. So it was the defense to the rescue. When Mason Crosby missed a field goal that would have given the Packers a 6-0 lead just before halftime, Nick Perry's sack and forced fumble allowed the Packers to take that 6-0 lead, anyway. When the offense sputtered and went 0-for-4 in the red zone, it was the defense who kept the Packers in front.

"Like I tell Dom (Capers) after a game like this on Monday, if you give up 17 points, we're going to win most of those games," Rodgers said. "I'm really proud of those guys. I think they did a great job of mixing up the coverages. You had a lot of individual performances that jumped out. Obviously, I don't watch that film. I'm sure there'll be some of the guys in the trenches playing the unsung hero roles for us. I thought Micah Hyde made some big open-field tackles, obviously Sam (Shields) and Tramon (Williams) were doing a great job in coverage. When they can shut them down, a good offense like that, to 17 points, we should win those games."

Given the state of the offense, it might be up to the defense for at least the next few weeks.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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