Defense Overcomes Big Issues with Big Plays

The Packers gave up a lot of yards and a lot of points against Dallas. However, from turnovers to third downs to clutch situations, the Packers' defense has come up big the last two weeks. Is that unit good enough, with Green Bay now in control of the NFC North?

Can the Green Bay Packers' defense build off of its second-half performances in comeback wins against Atlanta and Dallas?

Or are the problems far too glaring for the Packers to sustain their success for the rest of the regular season and into, potentially, the playoffs?

"The thing that stands out the most in my mind about this game is that we made plays at the most critical of times," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday, a day after Green Bay's stunning 37-36 win. "Really, that's what these NFL games come down to. Those are the things that we weren't getting done earlier in the season."

After an eight-game stretch in which the Packers forced just five turnovers, they've forced eight the last three games, including two critical interceptions in Sunday's comeback victory at Dallas.

Green Bay's 18th-ranked third-down defense held Dallas to 2-of-9, including 0-for-5 in the first half.

The stats show Dallas went 2-of-3 in the red zone but Green Bay's defense stiffened enough times in the first half to prevent the game from turning into a rout.

Dallas' first possession reached Green Bay's 26 but rookie Josh Boyd had a tackle for loss and fellow rookie Micah Hyde broke up a third-down pass as the Packers held the Cowboys to a field goal. Dallas' second possession reached the 5-yard line but Morgan Burnett deflected a pass intended for Jason Witten as the Packers held the Cowboys to another field goal. After Matt Flynn's second-quarter interception gave the Cowboys the ball at Green Bay's 20, Sam Shields had good coverage on a first-down pass to Dez Bryant, Mike Daniels had a sack on second down and Jarrett Bush batted away a pass to Witten on third down as the Packers held the Cowboys to their fourth field goal.

"(One) thing that I think was significant in the game was our play on third down, which kind of saved us in the first half," Capers said.

Throughout the first half of the season, the Packers' defense couldn't seal the deal. It nearly cost them the game against Baltimore. It cost them the game at San Francisco. It eliminated any comeback chances against Chicago. Now, in back-to-back games, the Packers have clinched victories by forcing turnovers.

When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, their defense was dominant by just about every metric. Most importantly, the defense dominated at crunch time. This year's defense has no dominant traits but the turnovers and the crunch-time performance are at least sources for optimism. Last week, it was against Matt Ryan, who has authored 17 fourth-quarter comeback victories in his six seasons as a starter. On Sunday, it was against Tony Romo, who has put together 19 fourth-quarter comeback wins in eight seasons as a starter.

On Sunday, Romo had to move the Cowboys about 40 yards in 1:31. Capers called that an "eternity." Instead, Tramon Williams made a brilliant interception to seal the victory.

"It's big for us. It keeps us in the hunt," Williams said after the game. "It just shows the character that these guys show in this room is amazing. I don't know if it was any other team that guys would have stood up like we did today when adversity struck. Guys continued to have a positive attitude, came out, kept fighting, kept fighting, chipping away, chipping away, and we got it done."

Can the clutch plays and the return of the turnover provide lasting success down the stretch run? Or will Ben Roethlisberger or Jay Cutler make the big plays and avoid the big turnovers?

"I told you guys last week, I can remember looking at our guys in the eyes when we were down 21-10 during halftime last week and was like, ‘Hey, we have to go out and play one play at a time and work our way back into this game,'" Capers said. "I pretty much said the same thing to them this week because we were down 26-3. Things weren't looking really good at that point in time. I give them credit. Our guys, I don't think they blinked. On offense, Eddie had that nice run. I think it kind of picked the guys up and we were able to go out and make a few plays. We played our best when our best was needed."

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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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