Just how good is the Green Bay Packers’ defense? After holding a 49ers team (one that usually gives Green Bay’s defense fits) to just 3 points, fans are beginning to wonder if the team finally has some strength to compliment the Packers’ explosive offense.
As with any general question related to the game of football, statistics can only tell us so much. What they do show in relation to the Packers, however, is a team that has been near the top of the league at keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone. Fans and commentators have used the “Bend, Don’t Break” moniker for the Packers defense in the past, but it may have never applied better than it does early into the 2015 season.
So far, the Packers have been very good (but not great) in slowing down opposing offenses marching down the field. Green Bay ranks as the 8th best defense in the NFL in yards allowed per game. The season is still young, but the Packers are allowing 312 yards per game, just less than 35 yards per game more than Denver and Seattle, the top-ranked defenses in this category. Moreover, the Packers are currently allowing about 35 less yards per game than they did in 2014. That was good enough to keep Green Bay in the middle of the NFL, as they finished 15th in yards given up per game. So there has been improvement, but not to a drastic degree.
However, the story is different in regard to the amount of points that the defense has given up. While the Packers were a middle of the road defense in 2014 in terms of points allowed per game, they’ve jumped into the top tier of that category in 2015. Green Bay finished 2014 averaging 21.8 points given up per game, ranking 13th overall in the NFL. In 2015, however, the Packers have climbed to number 3 in the NFL, tied with the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers, giving up just 17.8 points per game. Green Bay may not shut down opposing offenses in the way that Seattle does, but they’ve been keeping teams out of their end zone as well as anyone in the league, and that’s what matters for winning games.
One area of excitement for the defense has been against the run. With BJ Raji back healthy and returning to his 2010 and 2011 level of play, the Packers’ defensive line has certainly looked improved. However, while there has been some improvement in stopping the run (the Packers have actually only reduced their rushing yards allowed per game by about 5 yards thus far this season), the biggest jump in play seems to be in getting pressure on the opposing quarterback. In 2014, Green Bay averaged about 2.5 sacks per game. In 2015, Green Bay is averaging 4.25 sacks per game, tied for second best in the league behind St. Louis, and only one sack behind no. 1 ranked Denver in overall sacks.
The elevation of the play of Nick Perry, the emergence of Jayrone Elliott, and the continued dominance of Mike Daniels, Clay Matthews, and Julius Peppers has made the Packers formidable as a defense, especially against the pass. Coupled with the best QB in the league, the Packers have a good thing going in a passing league. Aaron Rodgers has 11 TD passes while the Packers’ opponents have just 4 against them. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense is scoring at nearly triple the pace of their opponents. Only Seattle, St. Louis, and Denver have given up less passing TDs.
The Green Bay Packers’ defense does not need to be great to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl in 2015. Playing behind the best offense in the league, it does not need to win games often, but merely allow the offense to do its thing. What makes this unit special, however, is its ability to truly aid and help bring about wins on the rare occasion that the offense is out of sorts, as it was against the Niners on Sunday. This may only happen two or three times a season, but in the post-season, those types of performances become more likely as the talent level of opposing defenses rises sharply. Those types of performances often prove deadly to aspirations of a championship.
The season is still quite young, but the stats, the tape, and the very attitude that emanates from this defense show that it can provide a stability and insurance when Rodgers and company need it; likewise, when Rodgers and company are dominating at their usual level, it provides a knock out punch that will put teams away early and easily, as was the case against the Chiefs.
There are a million things that can happen between now and the post-season, but right now Dom Capers has this defense firing on all cylinders, working with a level of talent that perfectly suits his 3-4 defensive scheme, and is also perhaps unprecedented in the Thompson/McCarthy/Rodgers era. The rest of the season will tell us whether these stats, and the hopes that they foster, are abberations or the real deal.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.