In what has been a common theme over the past half decade, the Green Bay Packers spent most of the offseason looking to elevate their defense to a championship level. The team’s first four draft picks came on defense, and Ted Thompson uncharacteristically brought in some key veteran free agents.
One week into the 2017 season, it’s hard not to get excited about the unit’s potential improvement. Going against the rival Seattle Seahawks, the Packers’ defense looked like world beaters. They kept Seattle out of the end zone, did not surrender a first down until the second quarter, and limited the Seahawks’ offense to just 225 total yards. Mike Daniels looked like an All-Pro, the pass rush disrupted Russell Wilson all day, and Seattle held the ball for only 20 minutes.
So the offseason additions worked, right? The defense is in for bigger and better things this season?
Well, not so fast. In no way should this take away from the Packers’ incredible defensive showing against Seattle, but the fact of the matter is one game does not make a season. Earning a key win against another NFC powerhouse is huge, but bigger threats loom for the Packers defense–starting with a Week 2 bout with the NFC Champion Falcons.
Again, Sunday’s performance was a huge step in the right direction for almost every aspect of Dom Capers’ unit. It could very well mark the beginning of a massive improvement on defense, but the Packers and their fans should be cautious not to celebrate too much, at least not yet.
For starters, the Seahawks have been notoriously slow-starting on offense over the past few years, struggling against the likes of the Rams and Dolphins in recent Week 1 contests. Additionally, the Packers have been fairly successful against Seattle ever since a 36-16 thrashing at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 1 of 2014. Even last season, when the Packers finished with the 31st-ranked pass defense, Green Bay held the Seahawks to just 10 points and 218 yards through the air.
To see how improved the Packers’ defense really is, the upcoming contest against Atlanta will be much more telling. The Falcons ended last season averaging more points per game than any team in the NFL, and more yards than anyone but the Saints. And Green Bay surely remembers the beatdown Atlanta put on the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Matt Ryan threw for almost 400 yards and four touchdowns, and Julio Jones ran up and down the Packers’ secondary for 180 yards and two scores. Throw in the electrifying running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, plus complementary receivers in Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu, and Green Bay could really have its hands full.
Green Bay brought back Davon House and drafted Kevin King and Josh Jones to help improve the pass defense, and Sunday will be the first true test of whether those acquisitions paid off. No disrespect to the Russell Wilson/Doug Baldwin connection, but they’re not anywhere close to the duo of Ryan and Jones. The Chicago Bears did a respectable job of slowing down the Falcons, but playing at home in the first game at a new stadium will likely have Atlanta raring to go.
The plethora of weapons the Falcons boast will serve as an excellent early season test for Green Bay’s defense. If the Packers can limit Atlanta’s aerial attack, it will go a long way toward proving that Week 1 was not a fluke, and the defense has truly taken two huge steps in the right direction. If they can do that, then the rest of the league will have to watch out, because the Packers really will look like the team to beat in the NFC.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .