Defense Grows But Can't Offset Others' Gaffes

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit is playing great against the run and on third down. However, for the Packers to rebound and make a run at the playoffs, the defense needs to stiffen when put on a short field and improve a lackluster pass rush.

In back-to-back games, the Green Bay Packers have allowed 38 points apiece.

The Packers haven't allowed a pair of 38-point games in an entire season since 2004, and they haven't allowed 76 points in consecutive games since losing to Dallas and Detroit in 1994.

But if the Aaron Rodgers-led offense has a bunch of phony-baloney statistics to its credit, then the defense certainly isn't as bad as the scoreboard shows the last two weeks.

"Through eight games, I think we've made a lot of progress," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said when asked for his halfway-through-the-season thoughts on Monday. "Hopefully, we can find a way to pressure the quarterback a little bit better the second half of the season. Right now, we're third in the league in yards per rush, which I like that. We're fourth in the league in total defense. We're fifth in third-down defense, which we've made real strides there as of late. And we're tied for third or fourth in takeaways."

Of the 38 points scored by the Buccaneers on Sunday, seven were scored by their defense and seven were scored by their special teams, and 14 more were set up on short fields after an interception and a long kickoff return.

Meanwhile, the Packers' defense forced six three-and-out punts, forced a seventh punt after allowing one first down and had an interception on the second play of a drive.

"I thought our third-down pressure was pretty good for the most part," Capers said. "We got off the field nine out of 12 times on third down, so we were 75 percent there. Our goal's 67 (percent). We still have to work on it. We had some guys close."

That lack of a consistent pass rush notwithstanding, Capers likes the direction of his defense and thinks it will be a factor in Green Bay rallying from its 4-4 record at the midpoint of the season.

But, he added, "We've got to find a way to make plays at the critical times."

Tampa Bay gained 279 yards and had only two real scoring drives on Sunday. And while Brett Favre and the Vikings' offense piled up 355 yards the week before, the Packers' defense generally played well enough to win that game, too. Of Minnesota's 38 points, two touchdowns came after long kickoff returns and the Vikings capitalized on a 154-yard edge in field position.

To go from a good defense to a great defense, the Packers have to overcome whatever mistakes are made by the offense and special teams. On Sunday, the defense walked on the field with the ball at the 8- and 17-yard line. Green Bay yielded touchdowns rather than field goals both times, just like it did on touchdown drives of 14 and 38 yards against Minnesota.

"The best defenses that I've been around, they look at that as a challenge. ‘Let's go out and show how good we are. We aren't going to let them in,'" Capers said.

"What we've got to do is we have to develop the attitude that, no matter where we have to go on the field, we've got to keep them out of the end zone," he continued. "We had a couple games where nobody got into the end zone. The two drives that concern me (against the Bucs), they went down and get that field goal at the end of the half and then the winning drive. Other than that, they had close-in quarters. We've just got to find a way to play better in the red area and keep those things to field goals rather than touchdowns when they start inside your 20."

The key to it all has been improved run defense. In back-to-back games against Cincinnati and St. Louis, Green Bay was gashed for 300 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per attempt. In the last five games, Green Bay has allowed only 391 rushing yards and 3.1 yards per attempt.

If the Packers can ever get their pass rush cranked up, this defense will put the team in position to turn around a season that has taken an ugly turn the last two weeks. Against the wily veteran Favre, Green Bay didn't get a sack in either game. On Sunday against first-time starter Josh Freeman, the rookie was inconsistent and inaccurate but he didn't have any reason to lose his poise against a defense incapable of getting much more than occasional pressure.

That was evident on the key play of the Buccaneers' winning drive. On third-and-7 from the Packers' 42, Capers sent six at Freeman. The Buccaneers picked it up, and Michael Clayton adjusted to Freeman's underthrown heave to beat Al Harris for 29 yards. Moments later, Freeman threw a fourth-down touchdown pass against Jarrett Bush to put the Bucs in front 31-28.

"We just didn't finish it off down the stretch."

But with a third-down success rate of 65.7 percent and just 3.47 yards allowed per rush, Capers likes the progress since early in the season and likes the potential as the second half of the season kicks off this week against the explosive Cowboys.

"There's a lot of positives to build off of," he said. "Hopefully, we can — and we're going to have to this week, because we're playing one of the top offenses in the league in these guys."


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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. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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