If the Green Bay Packers hoped to sneak up on teams this year, those hopes were dashed this preseason.
While the offseason buzz has been focused on the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, the Packers have forced themselves into the conversation by playing outstanding football. The confidence this group showed during the preseason suggests this isn’t the kind of group that feels they have to sneak.
The offense showed greatness. The Packers have added firepower and experience to a top-10 offense. Tight End Jermichael Finley has emerged as a weapon and quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks more mature and in control running the offense.
On the other side, the Packers are nearly giddy with how their new 3-4 defense has looked under the guidance of Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers.
The defense has been everything it was designed to be; explosive, aggressive, attacking and always capable of making a big play.
If there was a steep learning curve, the defensive players are acting like A+ students. Veteran Pro- Bowl players like Charles Woodson and Nick Collins can hardly contain their excitement. It seems like the team has more linebackers than it knows what to do with. “We have more than 11 starters,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Monday’s practice.
All this praise is good. The transition could have been much rougher.
Showing the players could thrive in the 3-4 was important this preseason. But, we should remember: so far all the team's defense has shown is it’s capable of defeating teams during the preseason (when teams don’t properly prepare for a blitzing confusing defense).
We shouldn't overestimate big plays. Last year the defense had playmakers that made big plays. The unit was one of the best in takeaways and seemed determined to break the defensive scoring record. But where did that get them? They still gave up critical yards when the game was on the line. They still ended up 6-10. So ignore the stats—the INTs, forced fumbles and highlights that was the buzz in the preseason.
There is one thing this defense hasn't shown—and won't be feared until it does. Once the season starts, watch for third and short. Watch for opponent’s running backs getting stuffed. Who is doing the tackling, D-linemen, linebackers or DBs? Notice if the Packers keep the running backs from getting 100 yards. Watch for three-and-outs, punts and good field position; the hallmarks of good defenses.
If this defense can do that, this team’s potential will finally be unleashed and it will be a very good year for Packers football.