For the first quarter of the season, the Green Bay Packers’ run defense was an impenetrable force.
On Sunday against Seattle, the Packers allowed 5.2 yards per carry. By the numbers, they had been worse only once this season. In reality, it was one of the team’s better performances of the season.
The Packers played 63 of their 71 snaps with six defensive backs on the field, with safety Morgan Burnett spending most of the game at linebacker. That look played a critical role in Green Bay eliminating tight end Jimmy Graham (one catch, 16 yards) and limiting quarterback Russell Wilson’s scrambles (four carries, 19 yards).
They couldn’t have stuck with that package had the Seahawks run the ball down the the Packers’ throats. Seattle ran it well but not well enough to make Capers to insert a true linebacker into the lineup. That was a huge factor in the Packers’ strong defensive performance.
“I think that kind of sets the tone. We felt that was the No. 1 thing,” Capers said on Monday.
Because of the lopsided nature of the score, many of the final statistics are irrelevant. During the first half, when the stats are more meaningful, Seattle ran 14 times for 64 yards — an average of 4.6 yards per carry with a long run of 13 yards.
That wasn’t nearly enough production to force Capers’ hand.
“The front did a great job and Morgan did a great job of playing gap-sound defense as a linebacker, something he’s not used to doing,” said inside linebacker Joe Thomas, a backup who played all 71 defensive snaps with Blake Martinez (knee) inactive and Jake Ryan (ankle) limited to only eight snaps. “I give credit to Morgan and the guys up front, and the cover guys, as well.”
By keeping six defensive backs on the field, the Packers were able to counter two of Seattle’s biggest offensive strengths.
In Graham’s first 12 games, he had six games of six-plus receptions and three 100-yard games. Moreover, Green Bay’s defense had been torched by tight ends. In the previous six games, it had allowed 45 receptions, 480 yards and three touchdowns against tight ends. Wilson threw four passes to Graham. Graham and Burnett caught one apiece.
Wilson, meanwhile, was almost a nonfactor with his legs. He ran just once for 2 yards in the second half.
The key to making it work was Burnett, who had worked at the “whip” position throughout training camp but had played it only on passing downs during the regular season.
“Morgan is an instinctive guy,” Capers said. “He’s one of the most coachable guys I’ve been around. He’s going to really work at it. He’s going to attempt to do things exactly the way you ask him to do them. He’s a guy who’s been around here who can handle those things. He’s proven to us he can handle that. We’ve asked a lot of him this year with all the moving parts we’ve had on defense. We felt this game because of Russell Wilson’s speed, because of Jimmy Graham’s ability to stretch and be a matchup issue, that this was a good time to do it. Morgan responded and really played an outstanding game.”
And the Packers played an outstanding game — their best of the season. The offense scored 38 points against a defense that was on pace to lead the league in points allowed for the fifth consecutive season, and the defense forced six turnovers.
“There’s always been confidence,” Burnett said. “I don’t believe confidence was ever lost. We still had confidence from Week 1 going into the season. No confidence was lost. And we know that going through the course of a season, you’re going to face adversity, but the good teams respond well once they go through adversity.”
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.