If this is what the learning process is like, the Packers' defense might want to stay in school all season.
Building on a strong preseason opener vs. the Browns last week in which it unveiled a new 3-4 scheme, the Packers' defense overwhelmed the Buffalo Bills for the better part of three quarters Saturday night at Lambeau Field. The Packers forced five turnovers (four in the first half) on the way to a 31-21 victory.
The Bills, for one, took notice. They are implementing a no-huddle offense this preseason, and although they were without wideout Terrell Owens, it may not have mattered if T.O. was there. Just ask Bills quarterback Trent Edwards.
"I thought that their defense was pretty impressive," said Edwards. "The whole night they were disguising a lot of their coverages, they were bringing a lot of pressure. For a preseason game, we weren't expecting too much of that."
It showed. The Bills put up just 102 yards in the first half and fell behind 24-0 with both teams' No. 1 unit's playing the majority of the half.
"I think it's kind of unpredictable," described Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop of his squad's style. "We can be blitzing, we can drop back, we can come up the middle, outside. The offense kind of doesn't know. They can't anticipate what we're going to do. It's being in the right place at the right time."
Speaking of being in the right place at the right time, linebacker Brady Poppinga got the turnover-fest started when he caught a pass deflected by safety Nick Collins for an interception on the game's fifth play. The Packers were playing a hybrid man-zone defense on the play according to Poppinga, allowing Collins to sit back and react to the pass intended for Lee Evans.
"(Turnovers have) been the emphasis for us the first two weeks of training camp, and obviously the emphasis of the training we are putting into it has come to fruition," said Poppinga. "The key is we have to keep it going because it doesn't count until the regular season."
Still, the nine turnovers in two preseason games count for something. It goes deeper even than X's and O's.
"I think if you can go out on the field and try to develop an attitude of trying to take the ball away or going three-and-out, that's the kind of mentality that you want," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. "That's what the really good defenses do."
The Packers forced two other turnovers in the first half as the result of pressure on the quarterback. Edwards was sacked by defensive end Johnny Jolly, who forced a fumble that was recovered by A.J. Hawk at the Bills' 5-yard line. The Packers' offense converted on the next play, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the 7:31 mark of the first quarter.
Late in the half, rookie outside linebacker Brad Jones, making his preseason debut, came around the corner to sack Ryan Fitzpatrick, forcing a fumble. Bishop made the recovery at the Buffalo 31-yard line. With 35 seconds on the clock, Mason Crosby booted a 36-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead with 13 seconds in the half.
Bishop continued his play-making preseason with an interception for the second consecutive game. He halted a long Bills drive in the third quarter with an interception of a Fitzpatrick pass on a fourth-and-2 at the Packers' 21-yard line. Bishop made a great read on slant intended for Justin Jenkins.
In all, the Packers converted five turnovers into 17 points. The Bills failed to score until the 1:09 mark of the third quarter, meaning Packers opponents went more than 100 minutes of actual game time before scoring this preseason, including last week's 17-0 shutout of Cleveland.
On the flip side, the Packers yielded 261 yards and three touchdowns to the Bills in the second half with the backups in, but the Packers were handcuffed just a little. With the Bills in catch-up mode, the Packers were down to just four defensive backs late in the game, thus making it unable for them to play any nickel defense.
Still, McCarthy is pleased with the progress.
"I think we're off to a good start defensively," he said. "The takeaways, I think we have something special. As far as production, the takeaways is another element of fundamental football. It's something we practice every day. We emphasize it, we have drills and things like that. I think the guys are playing with a lot of confidence. They seem very comfortable in the scheme. The disguise part has gone very well. We're playing with more vision to the football than we did in the past, and we're off to a good start."
Matt Tevsh has written for Packer Report since 1995. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.