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One last look: Can Packers defense shut down Saints?

Posted Sep 29, 2012

After a dominant Week 2 victory over the Bears, Packers defenders were reluctant to proclaim a defensive turnaround based strictly on one game.

They said they had to perform like that on a consistent basis. That would provide the proof.

Well, two games may not fully define consistency, but a strong follow-up in Seattle has the Packers defense beginning to state a legitimate case for that revival heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Saints.

The unit shook off some struggles in Week 1 and has allowed a total of just 406 yards over the last two games combined. That number drops to 382 if the “Inaccurate Reception,” as some are calling it, is ruled correctly.

Either way, the Packers haven’t posted a two-game stretch this stingy since early in 2009. The best two-game total during the Super Bowl season of 2010 was 462 yards, and only once last season did the Packers allow less than 675 yards over any two-game span. The 400 yards allowed over the past two games was surpassed in a single game 12 of 17 times a year ago.

“Even though we’ve lost two games, I’ve been encouraged by what we’ve done on the defensive side of the ball,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I think it’s just been a point of emphasis coming into the season … communication, intensity, energy, things we didn’t feel we had last year, things that people take for granted.

“The energy on the field, we didn’t have much.”

Success breeds some, if not most of that energy, of course. It’s a two-way street. It’s difficult to succeed without energy, while triumphs boost its level.

If the current trend continues, it will be interesting to note what develops into this defense’s identity. Turnovers have been the calling card in recent years, but two of three opponents thus far haven’t turned the ball over (again, the “Inaccurate Reception” notwithstanding).

It could be third-down defense instead. Through three games, opposing offenses have converted just 25.7 percent on third down (nine of 35), good for third in the league. That’s not a bad place to hang one’s hat.

Defensive lineman B.J. Raji points to the Packers’ first-down defense as the key to winning on third down, because the conversions become more difficult. Indeed, of the 26 third downs faced by the Bears and Seahawks in the last two games, only four of them required under four yards for the first down.

 “You get a lot of teams into third-and-shorts and second-and-shorts, no matter how good a coordinator you are, it’s tough to make a call, because you’re playing into the hands of an offense,” Raji said. “But when you get a lot of (longer) third-down situations, I think we’re pretty good on that down this year, flying around and playing with an attitude.”

Much has been made of the contributions of youth, and rightfully so. The Bears game was full of firsts – the first sacks in the careers of rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, and the first interception for safety Jerron McMillian.

First-round pick Nick Perry added his first sack in Seattle. McMillian would have had his second interception if not for a dubious roughing-the-passer call on Erik Walden, and M.D. Jennings should have been awarded his first pick.

This Sunday’s matchup with New Orleans marks the end of the first quarter of the season, when league rankings start to take on more meaning. The Saints possess the most dangerous offense the Packers have faced thus far, quarterbacked by passing-yardage record-holder and two-time league offensive player of the year Drew Brees.

The consistency – the proof – will surely be on trial.

“That’s a high-powered offense coming in here who people will say haven’t performed as they should, but they’re capable of doing a lot more, and that’s the way we’re going to prepare,” Williams said.

“ Hopefully, we continue growing. I don’t think we’re to the point where we need to be, but I think we’re close. Once everything starts clicking as a team, we’ll be where we need to be in the end.”

For a list of all Packers-Saints preview headlines, click here.

 
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