Quickly name me the top defense in the NFL after 12 weeks of play…No it is not the Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, or any other team that you would guess. Surprisingly, the league’s No. 1 ranked defense, in terms of yardage allowed, is the Green Bay Packers—average of 281.5 yards of offense per game.
That’s right… the team that seemed to be in a shootout every week in 2008 (allowed 380 points with an average of 23.8 point per game) and lost badly twice this season to the Minnesota Vikings led by “You know who”, has now found some teeth on defense.
No doubt the infusion of new defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his new attacking 3-4 defensive scheme has grown roots with the Packers (7-4). The Pack now has playmakers on the defensive line (see Cullen Jenkins—25 TKLs, 4.5 Sacks, 3 FF, and 1 INT) and secondary (see Charles Woodson) with their linebackers also getting better.
Despite losing All-Pro’s CB Al Harris and OLB Aaron Kampman for the season to knee injuries, the Packers have found inventive ways to shutdown opponents. Since losing to the Bucs 38-28 in Week 9, the Packers have been on a roll and have allowed an average of only 14 points per game in their last 3 games (all wins).
The Packers are getting three-and-outs at a high rate–Opponents’ third down conversion rate of only 33 percent (successfully converted 48/144 third downs) plus they are getting timely turnovers—27 takeaways ranking Green Bay second behind New Orleans (32). Clearly the addition of true nose talk rookie BJ Raji (1st Rd pick–9th overall) has made the transition to the 3-4 easier with the powerful rookie from Boston College and veteran Ryan Pickett providing the “fire hydrant” in the middle of the D-line that is essential to others in the front seven making plays. With their stout nose tackles leading the way, the Packers have allowed only two 100-yard rushers through 11 games—Bengals RB Cedric Benson and St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson in Weeks Two and Three respectively.
For sure the player that has benefited the most from the arrival of Capers has been perennial Pro Bowl player CB/S Charles Woodson. The former Heisman Trophy winner has turned it up several notches and may very well be playing the best football of his career. All one has to do is look at his current stats (54 tackles, two sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and seven INTs) to see why the 12-year veteran was named the Defensive Player of the Month for November and is a strong contender for NFL Defensive MVP. Woodson’s seven interceptions are one away from his career best of eight picks in 2006 and his two TD returns off turnovers is already a personal best.
The pressure will be on Woodson to continue to make game-changing plays without his partner Harris, but I believe he will be up to the task. The road to the playoffs won’t be an easy one for the Packers as their five remaining games include three road games and features three 2008 playoff teams ( BAL, @CHI, @PIT, SEA, and @ARI). Other than the Ravens (6-5), who also run the ball too, the four other remaining teams that the Packers will play to end the season like to throw the ball a lot.
The next big test for the Packers will be this Monday as the nation gets to see their No. 1 ranked defense first-hand against the Ravens. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said of his team’s defense, “You want to be ranked No. 1 at the end of the season, but I think our defense is on the right pace to be the championship defense that we anticipate we’d have here”. McCarthy then added about the challenge of facing the Ravens on Monday Night Football, “Our margin for error is going to be a lot less than it has been in the first 11 games because it’s December football now. This is the most important football that we’ll play all season.”
Current NFL Yardage Allowed Stats
Rush Pass Total
Green Bay 89.1 192.5 281.5
N.Y. Jets 108.2 175.7 283.9
Pittsburgh 74.9 213.5 288.4
N.Y. Giants 107.8 182.6 290.5
Denver 110.0 185.0 295.0
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)Posted in 2009 NFL Season, Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packers, NFL's Top Rated Defense Tagged: 2009 NFL Season, Charles Woodson, Dom Capers, Football, Green Bay Packers, NFL, NFL's Top Rated Defense, Sports