Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend, which makes the Green Bay Packers’ stellar defense a trend for three weeks in a row.
Whether that trend is a season long trend remains to be seen, but the Packers have looked like a different defense the last three weeks than they have in years. They have contained the power of Marshawn Lynch and Carlos Hyde and the athleticism of Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Jamaal Charles and Colin Kaepernick. They’ve done everything from stopping the run, controlling the middle of the field, taking away the deep pass, forcing turnovers and putting relentless heat on the quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers has bailed out the defense so many times throughout the years that it was so pleasurable to watch it be the other way around for once. They played to win the game on defense throughout and never stepped off the gas pedal. During this stretch of good play defensive coordinator Dom Capers stacked the box against these running game and trusted his receivers to cover man-to-man outside. He dared Kaepernick and Alex Smith to beat them, which they couldn’t, so the much maligned Capers deserves credit as well.
The return to prominence has been led by B.J. Raji’s all-pro level of play so far this season. Not only has his production been outstanding but so has his effort level, which has often lacked. With Raji, Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel, Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews patrolling the middle this run defense may not be a fluke. You probably don’t stop these kind of rushing attacks three weeks in a row if it was. Capers actually using his resources to defend the run has been a big key as well because in the past he would be content to sit back in nickel and let teams run the ball. You wonder how much say Mike McCarthy is getting in these defensive game plans now.
Daniels has been a beast so far this year with a +5.8 Pro Football Focus rating, three sacks, nine quarterback hurries and seven defensive “stops” (all before yesterday’s game) and Raji had a +3.9 rating with one sack, seven hurries and four stops. The defensive line has gone to preseason question mark to unquestioned strength.
The Packers are just looking great at all levels of the defense right now. They followed up a seven sack performance last week against Kansas City with a six sack game yesterday. You would be hard pressed to find any team in the NFL with the depth of pass rushers that the Packers do.
Jayrone Elliot is the fifth string OLB if you count Matthews as one and he has starting ability. Nick Perry has finally looked like the player the Packers envisioned out of the first-round pick. Perry had seven quarterback hurries heading into yesterday, and he absolutely owned a high quality left tackle in Joe Staley. Perry had two sacks and the first one really halted San Francisco’s momentum when it looked like they were heading in for seven points. Julius Peppers has been up and down, but has still shown his big play ability with four sacks in four games. Matthews could have had a few more than three sacks this year, as he has missed a few sacks missing tackles on the quarterback. His usage inside and outside the past two weeks has been brilliant.
With the Packers devoting the resources up front to stop the run the back end has held up just fine. Sam Shields has recovered from his brutal opening game to play like the corner the Packers are paying him to be for the past three games. He hasn’t missed many key tackles and his coverage has been terrific. Other than the play when Casey Hayward fell down to allow the play to get outside him for a big gain he has been solid as well in coverage. Damarious Randall has had rookie moments, but has shown flashes that suggest he has the talent to succeed. After getting burned deep by Torrey Smith he responded with a huge pass break up in the end zone on third down, and the 49ers ended up turning it over on downs in their last chance to score. Those are things to be proud of if you’re a rookie. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has seemed to improve his tackling in recent games.
The talent is there for Green Bay on defense and now it seems like it may finally be coming all together. If it does that is bad news for the rest of the NFL.