The Green Bay Packers’ defensive excellence in the first two preseason games comes with one obvious asterisk.
Yes, it’s the preseason.
So, if you choose to ignore that the Packers allowed 172 yards against Cleveland last week and 187 yards against Oakland on Thursday night, that’s certainly your prerogative. Perhaps a fired-up Mike Daniels from Tuesday’s practice holds more relevance than any preseason statistics.
“This is a whole new defense,” Daniels bellowed in language a bit more colorful than we have here after he knocked an offensive lineman on his butt and his teammates swarmed a running back at the line of scrimmage.
Green Bay’s defense has been superb in a pair of preseason victories. The Browns scored 11 points, with the lone touchdown drive covering 10 yards. The Raiders scored 12 points, with the lone touchdown coming on a blocked punt. Green Bay’s defense has been on the field for 22 possessions. Only three covered more than 45 yards. Eleven failed to get a first down. Three ended in turnovers and two others ended in safeties. If that's not impressive enough, it's been accomplished with three of the defense's top players, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Morgan Burnett, inactive for all three games.
“We were just trying to come out and just read, just read our keys and just fly around and make plays,” said cornerback Damarious Randall, who had one of the team’s two interceptions vs. Oakland. “And that’s exactly what we did as a team and just kind of looking forward to build off that.”
The Raiders finished a mediocre 17th in the league in scoring last season but quarterback Derek Carr tied for seventh in touchdown passes, receiver Amari Cooper topped 1,000 receiving yards and running back Latavius Murray topped 1,000 rushing yards. On Thursday night, Carr played the entire first half against the Packers’ starters and second-teamers. He completed 9-of-13 passes for just 38 yards with one interception. His passer rating was a woeful 40.2. Other than a 20-yard completion to Cooper, his other eight completions gained a pitiful 18 yards.
“That’s a good offense,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “That’s a talented football team. Schematically, I would say they challenged us from their offense to our defense. If anything, I don’t think – I don’t think, I know – we’re not doing as much scheme-wise. I think our defense made a big step from last week to this week. I thought their pursuit and finish was a step in the direction that we needed to take. Frankly, coach-speak 101, this is about fundamentals, execution, energy, flow and finish. We improved as a team, especially on defense. I don’t think we went out there and won any scheme contest tonight. The success we had from what I saw was just clearly the way the energy they were playing with and the execution of fundamentals.”
The Raiders converted only 3-of-11 third-down opportunities. They averaged 2.4 yards per carry with a long of 8 yards. Only two of their 11 possessions crossed the Packers’ 45-yard line, and nine possessions gained zero or one first down.
“I’ll tell you what, I didn’t really look at the statistics. The video is what’s most important,” McCarthy said. “You could see we were on different pages of when they took their 1s out vs. ours. It was great work for all of our young guys to play against their (starters). Those are all valuable, valuable reps and will help us as a football team to grow and, more importantly, evaluate our players.”
No, none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. But it sure beats the alternative. For a defense looking to take the next step and join the league’s elite units, the first two games have been a great start toward that goal.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.