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Packers' fast start on defense began with a look in the mirror

How a preseason game in Baltimore helped galvanize the new unit


GREEN BAY – Tramon Williams didn't need pressures, takeaways or 35 points allowed through the first three weeks to know the Packers' 2019 defense had a chance to be special.

While Sunday's six-sack, three-takeaway performance in a 27-16 win over the Denver Broncos reinforced Williams' perceived notion of the defense, it was a moment in the wee hours of Friday, Aug. 16, that the 13th-year veteran felt foretold what was to come.

The Packers' starting defense, in its first preseason outing together against Baltimore, gave up 75 yards, six points and a called-back rushing touchdown in two series against Lamar Jackson and a Ravens offense that has turned out to be one of the league's most dangerous during the early part of the year.

On the sidelines, the defensive players were disappointed in their debut together to the point guys starting asking each other if they wanted to break down their 22 snaps once the team charter landed back in Green Bay.

There was no ringleader – just individual position groups chatting among themselves. To a man, every player agreed. So at 3 a.m., cloaked in darkness, the defense sat together at Lambeau Field and reviewed each play – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Williams, who'll play in his 200th career game (including postseason) this Thursday against Philadelphia, had never seen anything like it before in his 11 seasons in Green Bay.

"The great thing about that meeting that night, there were no coaches, nothing," Williams said. "It was just us in there and we were relaxed, going through the film like, 'I should've did this. I should've did that,' and everybody was holding each other accountable in a really cool way.

"You have to think about it. There's a lot of young guys here. You want to instill that in those guys while they're young. For us to do that, that was a really, really good thing. It's going to go a long way. I think it's going to go a really long way."

Williams has been part of plenty of players-only meetings when seasons are on the line but nothing as proactive as this – or positive. Nobody rushed to conclusions or pointed fingers about what had happened. It was just an open discussion about what each player was seeing – from the rookies to the veterans.

Three games in, the defense feels it's that type of honesty that's allowed it to get off to its best start in nearly two decades. Although Denver made its share of plays Sunday, timely sacks and takeaways aided the Packers in scoring 14 points off turnovers to seal the team's first 3-0 start in four years.

The meeting after the Ravens game followed a familiar pattern that dates back to March when the Packers signed veteran linebackers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, who have combined for 24 tackles, 7½ sacks, a forced fumble and interception through three games.

The two were educated on the up-and-down history of the Packers' defense and how Green Bay historically has been very reliant on Aaron Rodgers and the offense to win games. They wanted to change that and were vocal about it from the beginning.

"It all starts with attitude," said Preston Smith, who had a career-high three sacks against Denver, including a strip sack of Joe Flacco that rookie Rashan Gary recovered at the Broncos' 5-yard line in the second quarter.

"We talked to the guys when we first came in here about the mindset that was in the past and the mindset we wanted to have. We always have to have a dominant mindset when we step on the field. When I got here, I looked at the roster and realized there's a lot of talented guys in here."

Chemistry has been a big part of it, too. On Thursday night, Za'Darius Smith treated the entire defense to dinner at a local Green Bay steakhouse.

At one point, a projector was brought in so the defense could watch the Thursday Night Football game together. Others chatted amongst themselves about football and life in general.

The next night, several defensive starters attended Adrian Amos' charity bowling event for the safety's I'm Still Here Foundation benefiting Alzheimer's awareness and research.

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 3 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos.