On the next-to-last day of the year and heading into the final game of the regular season, Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers examined the performance of his defense and saw a unit that is 12th in the league in points allowed, No. 1 in interceptions and No. 2 in takeaways.
“Those things have been fairly consistent,” Capers said.
Yardage allowed continues to be a problem, and following a week in which the Packers run-defense was gashed by the Bears for 199 yards, the Packers find themselves with a precarious 72-yard lead over the Patriots in the race to avoid being last in the league in the yardage category.
It’s been the bane of the Packers defense’s existence this season, and the root of the problem goes back to last February’s win in the Super Bowl. That’s when the Packers’ identity for the 2011 season was set, in a four-takeaway win over a Steelers team that outgained the Packers, 387-338.
Thank goodness for those takeaways. Darn that yardage allowed.
So, as the Packers head into Sunday’s less-than-dramatic finale against the Lions, the question is: Can the Packers defense patch its holes, or will the postseason success rely, as it has in the regular season, on stopping the bleeding?
“We have to find a way to steal 2-3 passes and give (our offense) the ball, and we have to find ways to make people earn points,” Capers said. “Our goal on defense is to do what it takes to win games and we’ve won 14 games.”
Imagine being 14-1 and having to deal with disappointment, but that’s an accurate description of what Capers has faced this season. Yardage allowed has been a thorn in his side all season, despite high rankings in the critical make-plays categories. Make no mistake about it, the Packers defense makes plays. The flip side of that is that it’s allowed opponents to make too many plays.
Maybe the arrival of winter will aid the Packers defense in denying yardage and big plays. Cold, snowy conditions have a history of doing that, and Sunday’s game is forecast to be played in falling temperatures and snow.
“I think that’ll be good for us to play in tougher conditions. We really haven’t had that. When you think of Green Bay, you have to be ready for it,” Capers said.
Meanwhile, Joe Philbin has enjoyed a season of yardage gained and points scored and rankings and stats that validate just about everything the Packers have done on offense. The Packers have the fifth overall offense with the No. 3 passing game and a running game that’s come to life late in the season.
When you look across the board at the 12 critical offensive rankings categories, the Packers are among the top 11 in the league in nine of those categories, including the most important category of all, points per game. In that category, the Packers are No. 1.
Oh, by the way, the Packers have had the top-rated quarterback in the league since the day the season began. Talk about coast to coast?
Happy New Year, Coach Philbin.
“You have an identity by this point in time. You don’t drift very far away from it,” Philbin said.
That’s good news, minus one.
The combined identity of Capers’ and Philbin’s units has produced the best record in the league. If only the defense could do something about that yardage ranking. They’ll have one more chance to get it right before the playoffs begin.Additional coverage - Dec. 30