'Vanilla Swirl' Turns Into Sweet Performance

Keeping the Browns off the scoreboard while forcing four turnovers and holding them to less than 200 yards is an encouraging sign - especially because Dom Capers didn't have to delve into his bag of tricks.

OK, so the Packers' defense wasn't vanilla.

"It was pretty vanilla," outside linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "But vanilla to us is not like a vanilla to any other defense. We're like a vanilla swirl when we're vanilla. We have a lot in the tank, so to speak. My goodness, it's all limited to the mind of Dom Capers, so there's really no limit to what we can do. But, yeah, it was pretty basic for us today."

If there's one note to underline from Saturday night's 17-0 beating of the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field, it's that the Packers' defense pitched a shutout without unveiling much from coordinator Dom Capers' limitless bag of tricks.

Yes, the Packers blitzed and pressured the Browns' quarterbacks. But those blitzes bared little resemblance to the exotic stuff thrown at the Packers' quarterbacks on a daily basis on the Ray Nitschke Practice Field.

"We pressured them," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I don't know how the numbers came out. We're going to work our basic concepts every day. A lot of our pressures were out of our base concepts. I thought our guys did a good job with it."

The Packers held the Browns to 191 yards, had three sacks and came up with four interceptions, even though Cleveland's starting offense was on the field longer than Green Bay's starting defense. Cleveland crossed the Packers' 40-yard line just twice. One of those drives ended in a missed field goal, the other in an end zone interception by safety Anthony Smith.

"Turnovers, that's just what the 3-4 brings," Smith said. "It allows everyone to make plays. Everyone's blitzing – safeties, corners, linebackers."

All of this must be prefaced by pointing out that the Browns' offense was bad by historical standards last season. Cleveland failed to score an offensive touchdown in its final five games last season, its quarterbacks combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes and their meal ticket is an aging, plodding runner in Jamal Lewis.

True to form, the Browns' three quarterbacks completed barely 50 percent of their passes (14 of 26) and, weighed down by the interceptions, compiled a passer rating of a horrid 31.7.

With that said, the Packers' defense was opportunistic. On the Browns' first possession, they gashed the Packers' defense with Josh Cribbs' 29-yard run on an end-around and converted a pair of third downs before Jarrett Bush broke up a third-down pass. A field goal was wiped off the board by a holding call, and Phil Dawson missed from 41 yards.

The Packers' defense settled in from there, though. Cleveland had eight more drives, netting merely 107 yards. The Browns had eight first downs – and the four interceptions – during those final eight drives. Star receiver Braylon Edwards didn't catch a pass.

The run defense – which was horrid for most of last season – held the Browns to 59 yards on the ground. Wipe away Cribbs' 29-yarder, in which he capitalized on the defense's overpursuit, and the Browns managed 30 yards on their 14 carries.

"Yeah, you know, for the first time in a game situation, the defense came together and played pretty good," inside linebacker Brandon Chillar said.

"It's a good starting point," Poppinga said. "Obviously, there's going to be some growing pains. It's a process. Everything is a process. And right now, we're at the very beginning of this process. As long as we continue to stay committed, as long as we continue to come together as a team, we are going to continue to make strides."

That the Packers were able to accomplish that without turning to exotic blitzes is a good sign. By staying relatively vanilla, the coaches were able to get a good read on the players' talents while not giving the Browns much to use for scouting purposes when they meet again in Cleveland on Oct. 25.

"Coach Dom, he tried to simplify it for us so we could just go out and not think a lot and just go out and display your talents," Smith said.

Asked if this performance helped confirm his decision to switch defenses, McCarthy shook his head.

"I like what I see so far," he said. "I like the way Dom Capers has come in here and pulled the defensive staff together. The players have responded and totally bought into the system. But we still have a lot of work to do. That's the facts. We're excited about the way we started but by no means are we ready to go for Chicago."

Nonetheless, a rugged and physical run defense and a ball-hawking defense was darned good debut for the defense.

Not bad for being vanilla swirl.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.

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