What was one common denominator between the championship teams of Vince Lombardi and the 1996 championship team? Exceptionally strong defensive backfields. The 1961 Packer championship team started a defensive backfield of Herb Adderley and Jesse Whittenton at cornerback and Willie Wood and Hank Gremminger at safety. That defense picked off 29 passes that year, compared to 16 by Packer opponents. Two of the picks were returned for touchdowns. The 1962 championship team started the same backfield. That year the defense picked off 31 passes, compared to only 13 by their opponents.
Look at the Lombardi teams that won three straight titles from 1965-1967. The same secondary started for the most part all of those championship seasons. The Packers started Adderley and Bob Jeter at cornerback and Wood and Tom Brown at safety. The 1965 team had 27 picks, including 4 returned for touchdowns, compared to 14 by Packer opponents. The 1966 team had 28 interceptions, including 6 returned for TDs, compared to just 5 by Green Bay opponents. The 1967 team had 26 picks, but for once the Packers threw more interceptions (27) as Bart Starr suffered through injuries most of the season. The Packer secondary also that year held opponents to less than a 100 yards per game in passing yardage. Opponents only averaged 98 yards a game throwing against the stellar Packer secondary.
The 1996 Packer championship team started Craig Newsome and Doug Evans at cornerback and LeRoy Butler and Eugene Robinson at safety. The Packers had 26 interceptions that year, including three returned for touchdowns. Opponents of the Pack only had 13 picks. Compare that to the 2005 Packers. The defense only had 10 interceptions vs. a whopping 30 by opponents. It's no wonder the Packers were 4-12 in 2005.
The 2006 Packers have a real chance to have an excellent secondary. The Packers will be starting Al Harris and Charles Woodson at cornerback and Nick Collins and Marquand Manuel at safety. Woodson and Manuel are the keys for success. Harris and Collins both played well in 2005. They just didn't have support from their counterparts. Exit Mark Roman and Ahmad Carroll. Roman was cut while Carroll is now a role player for the Packers, if he stays on the team. Woodson has at least nine interceptions in training camp already while Manuel is finally back on the field. Both are heady ballplayers that can cement the defensive backfield for the Pack.
As I mentioned earlier, all phases of the 2006 Green Bay Packer team must do their part for the squad to be successful. If Brett Favre can cut his interceptions in half and the defense can force its share of turnovers, then the team will be dangerous. Favre appears to have bought into head coach Mike McCarthy's offense, which allows for higher percentage passing plays. Favre proved that as he was nearly flawless against the Falcons last week. I look for Favre to have a typical Favre season before 2005 - around 30 TD passes and about 15 picks. That also will hinge on the effectiveness of the offensive line and the success of the running game.
The secondary will need help as well. The defensive front seven must get sufficient pressure on the opposing quarterbacks to force errant throws. The linebackers must be assignment sure in their coverages. The communication must strong. It appears that Manuel can help that situation. Even while he was nursing his calf injury, Manuel was constantly advising players of their assignments. He needs to do the same thing on the field. Collins will only get better. He was on the 2005 all-rookie team in the NFL. Woodson and Harris look to be bookend shutdown corners. This group should be fun to watch. The success of the 2006 Green Bay Packers might mirror their achievements. History says so.
Editor's note: Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.