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Packers defense determined to reverse trend


His defense might hold the fate of the Packers' season in its hands. Despite being the NFL's only undefeated team at 8-0, the first half of the season has been a sore spot for the Packers defense and its coordinator, Dom Capers, knows improvement is necessary for late-season success.

"I got a couple of letters," Capers said of fan mail that's expressed concern for the defense's struggles. "They said we have a chance to go 16-0 if the defense does its job. When the offense is playing the way it's playing, we have to pick it up."

The theory is that Aaron Rodgers shouldn't be counted on to carry the Packers through the whole season. Late-season football is often about defense, and as the Packers turn into the second half of their season with Monday night's game against the visiting Minnesota Vikings, Capers is determined to fix his unit's No. 30 ranking.

"I thought we had a good week of practice. The guys worked hard. They know the things we have to improve on," Capers said.

Clearly, the Packers need to improve on their No. 31 pass-defense ranking. At issue is a pass-rush that has slumped. Also at issue is a No. 27 ranking in third-down efficiency.

"I think it's a combination of pressure and coverage," Capers said of the sagging pass-rush. "Some quarterbacks are coached not to take a sack, but those quarterbacks are more apt to throw an interception."

"I only know one way to do it. You come to work every day and you try to build on your strengths and address your weaknesses. Our strengths have been taking the ball away and making big plays at critical times of the game. Our weakness has been starting slowly."

Capers' defense will attempt to reverse that trend against the Vikings.

"We need to start fast. The last time we played these guys it started with them throwing a touchdown pass that was questioned. You just have to come out with a sense of urgency," Capers added.

"I don't think the book has been written on what their defense will become. With eight games left, I think they're going to improve and shore-up some areas where they haven't been as good as they have been in the past," Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier said of the Packers defense.

On offense, the greatest challenge would seem to belong to left tackle Marshall Newhouse in his quest to block the league's sacks leader, Jared Allen. Allen was disruptive in the first meeting between the two teams.

"We keep track of negative plays every week," Packers Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He can disrupt your offense and get you off track. He can get you in bad situations. It's important to keep him away from our ball carriers and our quarterback."

"He's having a terrific season," Frazier said of Allen. "Even though people are changing their blocking schemes … he still finds a way to win, against two blockers or three blockers, because he's so intense."

Newhouse is likely to get help in blocking Allen, but Philbin cautioned: "As much help as we can design, at some point in time it's going to be one-on-one. The best thing we can do is set, 'punch' him, take a good technique, mirror him and keep our body between him and our quarterback."

The greater burden, of course, would seem to fall on the Vikings. They are saddled with the challenge of stopping the hottest quarterback in the game, Aaron Rodgers, who leads the league with 24 touchdown passes and a 129.1 passer rating.

"People have tried different ways: man coverage, zone coverage, not a lot of blitzing, but nothing has seemed to work up to this point," Frazier said of strategies employed against Rodgers. Additional coverage - Nov. 12

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