The good news is the Green Bay Packers rank No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense.
The better news is there’s no sense of satisfaction. No shouting from the mountain tops. No pounding of chests.
“It sounds good but it’s just for a week,” linebacker Nate Palmer said, echoing several of his teammates’ comments on Monday. “We’re No. 1 going into Week 8. We’ve got to keep working and make sure that we’re still No. 1 after Week 17. We’ve got a lot of work to do. The goal is to be No. 1, period.”
That’s music to coach Mike McCarthy’s ears. No trophies are handed out after six games. Nonetheless, after four seasons of playing defense that’s ranged from slightly above average to significantly below average, the first six games of this season are a step in the right direction.
But it’s only a step. Another step must be taken on Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the undefeated Broncos.
“You have to have a high level of accountability if you want to accomplish group goals. I think I’m stating the obvious,” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “I think we’re all in tune with the things we’ve done well and the things we need to continue to do (and) the type of team that we are, but striving to be the type of team we want to be. But, yes, we’re aware of the things where we’re ranked very high and aware of the things where we’re not ranked so high. But more importantly (were) the studies that were done on those particular areas and the coaching points and the emphasis that come out of those studies.”
McCarthy wouldn’t discuss the details of those studies but it’s safe to say run defense and tackling were mentioned. Green Bay ranks 27th in yards allowed per carry and, according to Pro Football Focus.com, sits near the bottom of the list with 10.0 missed tackles per game.
“Our team is full of perfectionists,” Palmer said. “Everyone wants to be perfect. That’s one thing that brings out team together. We all want to be great. … The scary thing about it is there’s so much more room for growth. Right now, we’re here but our ceiling is all the way up here. We were excited to get back to work so we can start trying to get to that ceiling.”
What’s hard to quantify is the increased physicality. That’s been an area of emphasis for defensive tackle Mike Daniels for the past few seasons. After making major strides in that area down the stretch last season, Green Bay’s defensive line is consistently winning in the trenches this season. That, almost as much as the No. 1 ranking, is what’s gratifying to Daniels.
“It’s definitely encouraging to see how we’re really progressing and improving every week,” Daniels said. “Man, the mentality’s just great. It’s great. Guys are holding each other accountable. Guys are encouraging each other to be the best they can be. Everyone’s leading by example. I love it. With the defense playing the way we’ve been playing, the offense is taking pride in how we’re playing. After the games, the offensive line will come up to us and say, ‘Man, you guys just dominated up front. You guys are doing a lot of really impressive things.’ We’ll try to give them a compliment and they’ll say, ‘No, it’s you guys that are the ones that are setting the tone.’ We’ve always taken pride in our offense, obviously. To see them taking pride in us, it’s really encouraging.”
Encouraging, yes. But not a reason to celebrate. Especially with a critical four-game stretch coming up with games at undefeated Denver and undefeated Carolina, a home game against Matthew Stafford and the Lions, and a game at surging Minnesota.
That’s why the eyes remain on the prize rather than the rankings.
“We keep playing like this for the rest of the year and we don’t win the whole thing, what does it really mean?” defensive tackle B.J. Raji said.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.