For most of this season, there was no sign of continuity. The defense struggled and was ranked near the bottom of the league for most of the season. The secondary that was supposed to be so great stunk it up and often were looking at each other as opponents raced into the end zone. The Packers defense hit rock bottom in an embarrassing 38-10 loss at home to the New York Jets in early December. They were booed off the field at halftime, and rightfully so. At that time, the chances of Sanders keeping his job were nearly non-existent.
Though Sanders won't admit it, the best thing that happened to Green Bay's defense was the loss to the Jets. Linebackers coach Winston Moss agrees.
"I think after that (New York) Jets debacle, the coaches and players said, ‘You know what? Enough of this,' said Moss, who played linebacker 11 seasons in the NFL. "We sucked it up and we got better every single game after that. We began to confirm our performances and we started going into these games with a lot more confidence and momentum, and that obviously helps."
Sanders and Coach Mike McCarthy only made one major adjustment, moving Cullen Jenkins to defensive end on running downs in place of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. That came one series after San Francisco's Frank Gore ripped off a 72-yard run on his second carry of the game. From that point on, Jenkins excelled, and so did KGB on pass rush situations, as did Pro Bowler Aaron Kampman. It was a huge move which would have come earlier in the season if Jenkins did not have an injured ankle.
Over the past four games, the team's secondary tightened up, and Green Bay's linebackers played without thinking about where they needed to be, especially Brady Poppinga and A.J. Hawk. No one position showed any more improvement than another, Sanders said a day after Green Bay held the Bears to one touchdown. They all improved together, finishing the season ranked 12th overall in the league in total yards allowed. That's leaps and bounds better than where the unit was ranked in September and October.
"That was a sign that the defense got better as the year went on," Sanders said. "I don't think you can point to any one over the other one. When you get better as a defense, it's a sign that everybody's moving forward."
The defense definitely jelled in the past month. With all but one starter scheduled to return (Jenkins will be a restricted free agent) and most backups, continuity becomes a big issue. Change coordinators, and suddenly the Packers will have to learn a new scheme, and possibly adjust to new coaches. For the sake of continuity, McCarthy will be better off to retain Sanders and hope that the defense will continue to make its upward climb in the NFL rankings in 2007.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.