GREEN BAY—A Packers defense that has been in rebuilding since finishing last in the league in 2011, might have turned a corner and begun a late-season charge. How much growth does this defense have left in it before the postseason begins?
"I hope we have a lot," Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday, as he reviewed his unit's performance in a 53-20 win over the Eagles. "We play our best defense around here in the second half of the season. We want to keep that arrow pointing up because November and December are when you want to be playing your best football."
It's mid-November and the Packers defense is playing its best football. It's stopping the run. It's sacking the quarterback. It's forcing turnovers and scoring touchdowns.
A move by Clay Matthews from outside linebacker to an inside position has triggered the most recent surge. For the second consecutive week, Matthews was used in multiple ways and the results were eye-popping. He came off the edge and sacked Mark Sanchez. He played "badminton" with one of Sanchez' passes.
"Are they going to define him as a 'Mike' or as a defensive end?" Capers asked of the opponent's preparation for Matthews. "You put more on their plate."
What's next for Matthews?
"We have plenty of different ways to use him; it's just a matter of figuring out what works. It should be based off personnel, getting matchups and the best people on the field," Capers said.
Nick Perry has found a home on the outside and Perry is arguably playing his best football since becoming the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2012.
Letroy Guion was a powerful force at nose tackle against the Eagles. He did more than hold the point of attack; he added a sack, a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hurry.
Julius Peppers, of course, continues his fountain-of-youth season, returning an interception for a touchdown for the second time this season. What if Peppers had played his entire career at outside linebacker?
What's the difference between the Packers defense now, as compared to where it had been at less-productive times earlier in this season?
"We're making more plays. The turnovers are big. A big part of that is getting down and distance in your favor. We've had a good mix of pressure and coverage in these last few games," Capers said.
The best might be ahead.
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - NOV. 17