Wild card round at Philadelphia: A championship-caliber defense? Who’da thunk it? « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Wild card round at Philadelphia: A championship-caliber defense? Who'da thunk it?

Raise your hand if, at the beginning of this season, you would have thought the Packers’ defense, not their offense, would be providing the locomotion for a playoff run.

(Anyone still have their hands up? OK, a few of you — and you’re lucky I don’t have access to a polygraph test.)

Now, what if I’d told you the Packers would be doing this without Nick Barnett, Brad Jones, Atari Bigby, Johnny Jolly, Morgan Burnett and Al Harris?

(Nobody left? That’s what I thought.)

The real story of the 2010 Green Bay Packers is not just that they’ve managed to weather a slew of injuries on defense. It’s that, in spite of those injuries and with a group of castoffs and retreads, they’ve put together a unit that is playing championship-caliber football and carrying a team that’s not getting as much out of its prolific offense as it should.

The Packers’ offensive production this year, while certainly affected by the loss of Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant, hasn’t been up to the level most would have expected. In their last five games, they’ve scored three, 27, 45, 10 and 21 points. Instead, it’s been the defense, holding strong even as men fall the wayside, that’s still got the Packers playing. And Sunday’s 21-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles was no exception.

The defense traced certain elements of the Minnesota Vikings’ blueprint for beating Michael Vick, but kept things unpredictable enough that Vick couldn’t counter. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert discussed this morning, they threw a grab bag of blitz looks at Vick, and kept him from burning them with his feet, like he’s done so many times in the past. And when they needed a big play, it was Desmond Bishop making a touchdown-saving tackle on DeSean Jackson or Jarius Wynn sacking Vick. And with the game on the line, it was Tramon Williams — without a doubt the biggest revelation of this season — leaping in front of Riley Cooper to intercept Vick in the end zone.

The Packers started four defenders on Sunday than they did in the season opener in Philadelphia. They faced a more dynamic Eagles offense than they did that day. And they allowed just 32 more yards, while allowing four fewer points.

They appear to have their cornerback tandem of the future in Williams and Sam Shields. They’ve watched B.J. Raji become a Pro Bowl-caliber fixture in the middle of their defensive line. They might have found a player in Erik Walden, though the jury is still out on the linebacker. They’ve revived A.J. Hawk’s career, gotten solid play from Charlie Peprah and in spots, Howard Green — a mid-season pickup like Walden — has played well.

Much of the success comes from the scheme, and Dom Capers has earned all the superlatives he’s received for his work with the Packers’ defense this year. But his position coaches — particularly Kevin Greene, Winston Moss, Joe Whitt Jr. and Darren Perry — have been just as crucial. The Packers have played defense at a level that should leave them in fear of no one, and they’ve done with a scheme and a philosophy so solid, their next-man-up philosophy has worked.

Even if the Packers don’t reach or win the Super Bowl this year, imagine how good they can be next year, with their depth restored at all three levels of defense and another draft for Ted Thompson to add athletes to the group. Capers is due a raise, but I have a hard time seeing him leave for a head coaching job at this point in his career. This could be a special defense for the next few seasons. Think about what happens when they add Finley back to their offense.

But this is still about now, about a season that’s still going and Super Bowl chances that are very much alive. And that, first and foremost, is because of the defense.

If the Packers shut down the Falcons next week, you won’t find me among the surprised any more.

–Gene Bosling

5 comments to Wild card round at Philadelphia: A championship-caliber defense? Who’da thunk it?

  • Bearmeat

    This week is the roughest test left. If we can get through them, I don’t see CHI or NE in the SB as a big problem.
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    And btw – I don’t see many people complaining about MM’s coaching anymore. Hello? Anyone? LOL
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    GO PACK!

  • Packerwest

    There are still a lot of problems with MMs clock management and his long term problem of trying not to lose when the Packers have the lead. How many games do we have to depend on the defense to hold on at the end of the game to win because MM gets so conservative with his playcalling when the Pack has a lead?? We could have easily lost the first Vikes and Lions games as well as the last Bears game because of this.As far as clock management weren’t you screaming at the TV for MM to call a timeout before the Eagles kicked the field goal? 40 seconds of time gone which we could have used to try to score before the half. I think MM is certainly improving in all areas except these two facets of his coaching.

  • Bearmeat

    Packerwest, that is just flawed logic. How many times have we as Packer fans yelled “NO” the the bomb on 3rd and 1? The fact is that it’s based on matchup. In the early part of the season (and periodically since) GB has had massive struggles on 3rd and short. A surprise “GOTCHA” deep pass (which we excel at) is a great reminder to other teams not to sell out for a sneak or dive.
    -
    On the other hand: Starks gained 125 yards on Sunday! He had a hot hand and we wanted to drain the clock. I have no problem with MM calling 6 straight runs. If you notice, GB did get 1 first down on that last drive – via running the ball. Now could MM have called a playaction bootleg? Possible, but as I am not a football professional, I have no right to judge him there. I’ll leave that to the hands of the pros who are trained in the field and paid to make those difficult decisions. I will give you the end of the first half clock management: I wanted them to push it too – but again, that is not my choice.
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    Bottom line: MM IS GOOD COACH! Live with it or at least can it so the rest of us can enjoy the success GB has had this year.

  • Packerwest

    Bearmeat, MM is a good coach and I am not one of the ones who think he should be fired. He is in fact learning from his past mistakes on goal lines calls etc. Calling a gotcha deep pass with Rogers is all right but with Matt Flynn in was a dumb call.As for the hot hand Starks he was on the sideline on third and one when Kuhn was stuffed with 8 minutes left. Kuhn is not a bad call but let him run from a formation deeper with a better head of steam into the line.I would love to see Rogers run one bootleg and hope MM is saving that call for the next time we need a game ending first down or a goal line TD.I am enjoying the Packers success this season also but we would be watching playoffs in Lambeau instead of Philly,Atlanta or Chicago if MM had made some better decisions earlier in the season. Coaching is like any job or profession, the more experience you have the better you get. MM is improving every year and will no doubt win a Super Bowl this year or in the next few. Criticism hurts but is all part of the learning process in whatever profession you are in. I think he will coach his best game this week. Green Bay 31 Atlanta 17

  • Nate-in-WY

    LeRoy Butler has a great segment on JSOnline; “5 Questions” and “X’s and O’s”. He has some great insight with regards to MM’s play calling and time management.

    Credit to the coaches; it seems every week the Packers offense re-invents itself. One week we have the long-range aerial bombardment of the Giants, the next week we have a slug-fest against the Bears, and last week it was a clock-eating run game. And, OMG!, we just won two close games! Who knows, maybe this week we’ll see no-huddle.

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