GREEN BAY—The Packers defense had an unmistakably hot look to it late in the 2010 season.
"You pick up momentum. You take the ball away. Down the stretch, we played very, very well and we had a lot of takeaways," Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said as he looked back on those days from two years ago, when his defense caught fire at the same time the Packers' young quarterback did.
"In the playoffs, we had interceptions for touchdowns in the last three games," Capers said, remembering the heroics of Tramon Williams against Atlanta, B.J. Raji against Chicago and Nick Collins in the Packers' Super Bowl win over the Steelers.
So what about this year's Packers defense as we turn into the final four games of the season? Does it have the look of a defense about to get hot?
It was an interception and subsequent 72-yard return for a touchdown by safety M.D. Jennings that was one of the big plays in the Packers' 24-20 win in Detroit three weeks ago, and it was safety Morgan Burnett's two interceptions that turned the game in the Packers' favor in their win over the Vikings last Sunday.
"We had six three-and-outs," Capers added of the defense's performance against the Vikings. "What I don't want to say every week is 'if we take those two, three plays out.' "
Three long runs by Adrian Peterson spoiled an otherwise outstanding performance by the defense last Sunday. Can the Packers defense eliminate big plays by their opponents and provide their own big plays? The answer to that question will determine whether the Packers defense might get hot late in the season.
They'll try to do that this Sunday night against the visiting Detroit Lions, in a game against the NFL's No. 1 passing attack and No. 2 team in total offense. It's a game that might be played in the first wintry conditions of the season.
"We haven't had to play in snow yet. We try to work outside as much as we can. We've been outside every day this week," Capers said.
The Lions, of course, are a dome team, but they gained 575 yards of offense on a cold, windy and snowy New Year's Day at Lambeau Field last season.
"We know the way those guys are built. They spread you out. They have a receiver (Calvin Johnson) who's a rare guy," Capers said.
The Packers have intercepted Lions quarterback Matt Stafford seven times in the last three games between the two teams. Should that trend hold true this Sunday, the Packers might take a hot defense to Chicago next week for an NFC North showdown with the Bears.
"You better never underestimate this team," Capers said of the Lions. "This is the best fourth-quarter team … 131 points, which is the most of any team in the league. They're just a few plays from being in playoff contention."
At 4-8, the Lions have fallen out of playoff contention in a four-game losing streak that includes the Packers' late-game rally in Detroit, Houston's overtime win on Thanksgiving Day, and the Colts' game-winning, last-play-of-the-game touchdown last Sunday.
Does being out of playoff contention make the Lions an even more dangerous opponent?
"It affects different teams differently," Capers said. "We're going to get their best effort. We're going to get their best game of the season; that's what we have to prepare for." Additional coverage - Dec. 7