Think back, for a second, to late August. What were your worries regarding the 2010 Green Bay Packers?
Were you worried about the offense? No, not at all. The group was deep, talented and just hitting its stride. Scoring 30 a week? Why not?
What you worried about was the defense. You worried about the pass rush, the secondary depth, no Johnny Jolly. If someone were to tell you this team would be 5-3 at the midway point and rapidly on the verge of becoming a force in the NFC, you would have likely said it was because of a fast-improving defense.
How wrong you would be.
The story of the Packers’ emergence is one being written by the same group riddled with question marks just two months ago, a group devastated by injury, one largely comprised of rookies, no-names and nobodies. That unit led the way yet again Sunday in Green Bay’s 9-0 road win over the New York Jets.
The Packers’ defense came though with its best effort of the season – perhaps its best effort in years – in this one, recording their first road shutout since 1991 and the first shutout by any team in the 2010 season. It is a unit that continues to fight, claw and battle its way to wins.
Consider the following: No one – and I mean no one – thought Green Bay’s battered, tattered front seven could withstand the onslaught it was sure to face from New York’s top-notch running game, one powered by two good backs and an elite offensive line. Withstand the Packers did, holding New York’s duo of Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson to just 76 yards on 22 carries. Those two had success, on occasion, but more often than not, the holes they targeted were simply unavailable.
That was due to the work of players like C.J. Wilson, Howard Green, A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, players expected to contribute little, if anything, over the summer. Actually, you can say even less about Green since, you know, he was just signed last week.
By shutting down the run game, a door was opened for some “no-names” to step up and makes plays against the pass. Charlie Peprah’s name comes to mind here, carrying over his very strong showing from the Minnesota game. It’s becoming readily apparent why he was kept around so long, despite his various injury troubles. The guy can play, delivering both strong coverage and some seriously big hits.
Of course, Green Bay’s defense is not entirely composed of nobodies. Charles Woodson. Tramon Williams. Clay Matthews. These are names everyone knows. And names that certainly made big plays Sunday.
Woodson and Williams both came up with picks that altered the course of this game, Woodson’s pick a display of freakish athleticism and Williams’ a display of pure toughness and never-say-die grit.
And when you can combine the traits shown on those two interceptions in someone, you have a great player. What you have is Matthews. Despite being kept down most of the day by right tackle Damian Woody, Matthews kept on fighting. And fighting. And fighting, until finally he broke through for a crushing, drive-killing sack of Mark Sanchez late in the game.
Overseeing this group is a man turning in the best work of his illustrious career: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Somehow, someway, Capers continues to get strong, hard-nosed performances out of this group. I am only half-kidding when I ask aloud if the 2010 NFL Coach of the Year award can be given to a coordinator. If so, here’s your winner, gang.
And Capers has just one more game to get through before honest-to-God reinforcements arrive in the form of Al Harris and Atari Bigby. One more game to get through before players like Ryan Pickett can get back near 100 percent. That has to excite you.
But, even without those guys, it’s becoming clear the players in place - this rag-tag group of oddly assembled parts - have begun rallying together, determined to prove that they can play, your opinion of them be damned.
The defense has already far exceeded any expectations placed on it back when the temperature gage was still high. If the offense can ever live up to theirs, oh what a team this could be.