Defense has room for improvement

Green Bay's defense, which has fallen short of its lofty expectations this season, needs to have a good game against a good Seahawks offense in the Packers' divisional playoff game to gain more respect, says's Matt Tevsh.

The Packers' defense played well during regular season, but to make a run at a championship this postseason it needs to play even better.

Better than its 11th ranking in the National Football League in total yards allowed.

Better than tied for 17th in the league in takeaways.

And certainly much better than the 414 yards and 37 points given up in the biggest game of the year against the Cowboys (Nov. 29).

The old adage "defense wins championships" is as true as it gets. So while the Packers' offense has been a surprise, and the special teams have shown general improvement, the defense will need to meet its own expectations to make this a post-season to remember.

With the regular season complete, it can be said that the Packers' defense never really met their lofty expectations. It wanted to be among the top five in the league, but never at any point during the year did it come close to cracking one of the top spots (based on total yards allowed). Instead of being dominant, it became more of a bend-but-do-not-break unit, which proved to be good enough considering the Packers continued to win.

This Packers' defense, though, has all the chemistry and individual talent to be better – to be a dominant unit, not just one that is "good enough." They still have time to make that statement in the playoffs.

"Obviously we're never satisfied with how we play, but we feel like we've put ourselves in position to do the things we want to do," said linebacker A.J. Hawk. "We're in the playoffs, we have a first-round bye, and now we just need to prove it."

This week against the Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs, a healthier Packers' defense should be primed for a complete performance. Yes, the Seahawks have a crafty quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck who can make plays, but really no other offensive player with the Seahawks should stand alone as striking fear in the Packers' defense.

The real wild-card match-up will be Seahawks' head coach Mike Holmgren vs. rookie playoff coaches Mike McCarthy and (defensive coordinator) Bob Sanders. Though McCarthy and Sanders have much improved in game-planning and in-game adjustments this year, they were exposed against the Cowboys during the regular season in a game just about as big as this Saturday's against the Seahawks. The Packers' defense looked confused on several occasions against the Cowboys and Tony Romo exposed such breakdowns for 309 yards and four touchdowns.

The Packers' defense has been fine against the bottom-feeder offenses in the NFL but will need to take their play to another level against more sound units like Seattle's and possibly the Cowboys' again down the road. Only then will their ultimate identity as a unit shine through.

To be fair, the Packers' defense has excelled in some telling categories. They were No. 8 in red-zone defense, No. 6 in scoring defense (allowing 291 points), and No. 3 in third-down defense. Those numbers are hard to ignore.

"The only thing we really care about as a defense is how many points we give up," said Hawk. "You can talk about stats and yards and everything, but it comes down to who has more points, and as a defense we want to make sure we have more points than them and were not giving up a bunch of points. You can rank a defense in different categories – run defense, pass defense, whatever – but for us, it's just about points given up."

The Seahawks had the No. 9 rated offense in the NFL this year (at 348.9 yards per game) and were tied for ninth in scoring (at 24.6 points per game) so they have at least been productive as a unit, if not all that intimating individually. Most other Packers opponents this season cannot say that. Only two teams the Packers faced this season (Cowboys and Eagles) were among the top 10 offenses in yardage and only two (Cowboys and Chargers) were among the top 10 in scoring.

Saying the Packers' defense must be better in the post-season might sound a little harsh at first, but for a unit that takes pride in itself, it has yet to reach the highest level. Only then will it be considered great.

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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