Great Defense? Packers Pointed That Direction

What is a great defense? "I think a great defense is, no matter what position you put them in on the field, that you go out and handle that situation and keep people out of the end zone," Dom Capers told Packer Report. By that standard, the Packers are well on their way.

Dom Capers, the Green Bay Packers' sage defensive coordinator, has a glimmer in his eye.

His unit was one day removed from helping the Packers win their fifth consecutive game. The Packers have allowed more than 14 points just once during the streak, with a five-game average of 14.2 points allowed. The defense ranks second overall, including second against the run and third against the pass, and ranks second in takeaways.

With Capers' trust in his players and the players' trust in Capers and the scheme growing every week, he's turned his defense loose more and more. Against Chicago, it was a mad-scientist defensive package that utilized just one lineman that turned the game toward the Packers from the opening possession.

Capers, who has guided juggernaut defenses in Pittsburgh, Carolina, Jacksonville and Miami, knows something about "great" defenses. So, this questioner asked, what is the hallmark of a "great" defense?

"I think a great defense is, no matter what position you put them in on the field, that you go out and handle that situation and keep people out of the end zone," Capers said. "I thought yesterday, the thing I was most pleased with is we started the game as well as you could start it. The first four series, they had 25 yards. We had an interception and we forced them to punt the ball three times."

Then, things took a turn for the worse. When Tramon Williams fell in coverage, the Bears converted a third-and-17. Three more third-down conversions later, the Bears were in the end zone and had gotten back into the game. When the Packers turned it over on their first possession of the second half, Chicago drove 56 yards for another touchdown and a 14-13 lead.

"Then they're moving the ball until we get them stopped on that third-and-1," Capers said of a play in which safety Atari Bigby and linebacker Nick Barnett dropped Khalil Bell for no gain. "When you're in that situation and you're on the road and you lose the momentum of the game — which we had clearly lost the momentum of the game at that point — a good defense can find a way to make plays to get that momentum back. I thought that's what we did yesterday. We had to have a third-and-1 stop because they had two touchdown drives and were driving again."

Atari Bigby makes a key stop of Khalil Bell.
Spencer Green/AP Images
The defense's stats are pretty but they don't tell the whole story. When the Packers have needed a big performance or a key stop, the defense has delivered. Against Dallas' third-ranked offense in an absolute must-win game, it was total domination for the first three-plus quarters. Against San Francisco, Nick Collins' interception set up a big fourth-quarter touchdown. Against Detroit, the Packers forced five turnovers. Against Baltimore, the defense gave the offense great field position to make it 24-14, and Williams' interception in the end zone thwarted the Ravens' chance to get right back into the game. Against Chicago, Collins struck again, with his interception and return to the 11-yard line setting up a sputtering offense for the winning touchdown.

"You go through the course of the game, there's always going to be some phase of your team that's going to struggle at some point," Capers said. "When they're struggling, the other phase has to pick it up until you can get things right."

Against Dallas, San Francisco and Detroit, the defense's only fault was fourth-quarter letdowns. Capers said the defense gave up exactly as many yards in the first three quarters of those games as in the fourth quarters. Not so the last two weeks, though.

The defense yielded 36 yards and had two interceptions in four fourth-quarter drives by Baltimore — the same Ravens offense, as Capers pointed out with a grin, that piled up 548 yards vs. Detroit. On Sunday at Chicago, the Bears mustered 49 yards and one interception on four fourth-quarter drives. When the Packers' offense failed to run out the clock, a corner blitz by Williams killed the Bears' last-gasp drive.

"Those are the kind of things — the really good defenses make plays that change the game and change momentum," Capers said.

With three games remaining — and, presumably, at least one game in the playoffs — is this defense on course to be a great defense?

Capers, not surprisingly, wouldn't go down that road. But that smile and gleam in his eyes spoke volumes about a defense that came out of the bye week ranked 18th in the league but has allowed more than 300 yards only once in the last nine games.

"I'll just say this: Our last nine games have been significantly different than our first four games," he said. "The first four games, we were a middle-of-the-road defense. The last nine games, you've seen what's happened. If you can go out and consistently play at a certain level, then people start to respect you. Nobody gives you respect in this business. You've got to earn it by what you do on the field, and I think our players know that. It doesn't do any good to talk about things. let's go out and earn respect on the field."

Does he see that respect from the opponents?

"The way you earn it is you go out and play consistent," Capers said. "I know we've had some big games, we've had some national games."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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