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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Clay Matthews, left, and Jerel Worthy have been stalwarts on the Packers defense. (PHOTO: Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

Packers' defense proving its worth


Following the Green Bay Packers season-opening 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, an air of concern billowed out of the historic venue in Green Bay. To many, it looked too much like the historically bad defense of 2011 which ranked dead last in the National Football League.

Just four days later, the Packers decimated the Chicago Bears in a 23-10, holding their rivals to just 168 yards of total offense and forcing four turnovers.

Defensive coordinator Dom Campers' unit responded with another stellar effort Monday night in the Packers' controversial 14-12 loss to Seattle, limiting the Seahawks to just one touchdown until the buzzer sounded.

The effort will forever be overshadowed by the interception M.D. Jennings didn't make, or the pass interference Sam Shields did, but for 59 minutes, 59 seconds the Packers looked like the Super Bowl defense of 2010.

Through three weeks, against teams with a combined record of 6-3, here is how the Packers defense rates league-wide:

  • 1st – Pass defense (125.3)
  • 1st – Sacks (12)3rd – Total defense (261.0)
  • 3rd – Third down percentage (26%)
  • t7th – Points allowed (18.0)

"We have all the playmakers, the defensive calls, everything to indicate that we should have a defense like that week in and week out," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It wasn't the case last year. We had a few times where we showed glimpses but hopefully that's the case this year."

Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with six, even after being shutout by the Seahawks. A.J. Hawk is tied for eighth in the league in tackles with 30.

On Monday, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was held without a completion from the 55-second mark in the first quarter to the 6:10 mark in the fourth. And, despite Nick Perry being the only Packer to record a sack, Wilson was forced to move on nearly every drop back.

"We have a lot more depth, a lot more quality guys in the depth that can play, that can come in and play at a high level," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said about his teammates in the defensive backfield. "I really feel that the coaches believe in any one who steps out on the field and doesn't expect a drop off."

The one area that needs to be shored up is the rush defense, which ranks 26th at 135.7 yards per game, especially with the likes of Arian Foster (Houston), Steven Jackson (St. Louis), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville), Adrian Peterson (Minnesota), Ahmad Bradshaw (Giants) and Chris Johnson (Tennessee) left on the schedule.

Overall, however, the defense is trending in the right direction after playing three quality opponents.

"The great thing about this defense is we have a ton of playmakers, so you're never really the guy that's asked upon to make the big play," Worthy said. "Clay is not always asked upon to make the sack. We have a guy like Nick Perry or Erik Walden on the other side. (Charles Woodson) is not always the guy that has to come up with the big interception, we have other DBs that can do that."

Worthy continued: "And up front I don't have to take all the weight. I have Pro Bowler right next to me (in B.J. Raji). I've got a guy who's been in the league 12 years right next to me (in Ryan Pickett) as well. I just have to play my game. I have to take advantage of the opportunities that coach gives me to rush the passer as well as in the run game to just make sure I'm in position to do my job."

The Packers will say the end result – a 1-2 record – is not good enough, regardless of what the statistics say. But, indications are that the defense has put 2011 behind them and are trending in the right direction.

"Last year is last year," Matthews said. "We've put that behind us now, as we with everything – the loss, with how it went with a 15-1 record. We're starting new now. The great thing is we have a clean slate and we've gotten off to a good start and we've done some good things."


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