Defense Kept Packers In Game, Continues Improvement

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Almost nothing went right for the Packers early on last Sunday at Buffalo.

In the first half alone, the offense started three possessions at its 12-yard line or worse, fumbled two snaps, and had an interception returned for a touchdown.

Yet while such a list of mis-steps in just two quarters can let a game get out of hand, the Packers still had a chance to beat the Bills primarily because the Green Bay defense was playing some of its best football.

"To be down 10-nothing after that first half I thought was a real credit to our defense, keeping us in that game," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.

The defense had to stand tall three times against difficult field position in that first half, including on the game's first possession. Buffalo's Terrence McGee returned the opening kickoff to the Green Bay 29, but the Packers allowed just one first down. They stopped the second series when defensive tackle Colin Cole blew through the hole and stuffed Willis McGahee for a 3-yard loss on third-and-1, forcing a field-goal attempt.

On two other possessions before halftime the defense was even stiffer. With Buffalo taking over on its own 41 late in the first quarter, a third-down sack by Corey Williams gave the Bills a net minus-2 yards in three plays and they punted.

Then in the second quarter, taking over on the Green Bay 49 after the Packers' first botched snap, the Bills went three-and-out again, hurting themselves with a false start penalty on second down.

To Buffalo those were blown opportunities to give itself a cushion on the scoreboard, but to Green Bay they were key defensive stands to keep the deficit a manageable 10 points at intermission.

"Whenever we go out there, wherever we're at, our job is to stop them and the guys started fast," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said. "That's what we asked them to do, and I thought they had a good first half."

The second half began just as solidly, and by the end of the third quarter the defense had allowed a measly 82 total yards and four first downs in the game. The one black mark was the 43-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter, when the Packers had lost both starting safeties to injury and a miscommunication in the defensive backfield left Lee Evans wide open down the sideline.

It was a costly breakdown to be sure, but even with that big play, Sunday's effort marked the second straight week the Packers have lowered their season-best for yards allowed. After holding Arizona to just 218 yards in a 31-14 victory the previous week, the Packers surrendered only 184 yards to Buffalo.

"It was one of the best games the defense has played," said Williams, who had three sacks against the Bills. "We're starting to learn each other more and more and more."

{sportsad300}As basic as it sounds, a key factor the last two weeks may have simply been tackling. Missed tackles are always glaring mistakes, but sure tackling can go unnoticed as it limits the opponents to reasonable gains.

Of the 53 running plays by the Cardinals and Bills combined, only 10 went for more than 6 yards. Other than the 43-yard TD by Evans, only one of the other 21 pass receptions the past two games gained more than 20 yards.

"The runs after the catches they've made, we've eliminated that," Sanders said. "If we continue that, we'll have a chance to keep the yardage down."

About all that's missing from the defense's recent performances has been turnovers, with just one against Arizona and none at Buffalo. There were two opportunities for turnovers by the Bills, but safety Tyrone Culver couldn't hang onto a pass he got his hands on as he dove in front of tight end Robert Royal along the sideline, and a fumbled punt by Jim Leonhard was recovered by Bills teammate Coy Wire.

On a day the Packers offense turned the ball over four times, just one takeaway by the defense might have made a dramatic difference.

"There were a couple chances we definitely had and didn't take advantage of," Sanders said. "Hopefully we can maybe create a few. That's what our goal is each week, to try to get three. That's what we shoot for."

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