Despite Sloppy Play, Defense Gives Packers a Chance at Greatness

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IDecember 8, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 7:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball in the first half against Ryan Pickett #79 of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 7, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A man people in Green Bay might recognize coined a phrase about winning, something about it being the only thing that really matters.

The last four weeks have not been pretty, but they’ve been successful. You have to win football games and that’s all you have to do.

This just in: the Packers got flagged for another pass interference call nearly 24 hours after last night’s game against the Ravens ended. Obviously that is a joke, and a poor one at that, but the way flags have been flying against the Packers, nothing would be surprising at this point.  Early in the season, sacks, penalties,and special team gaffes killed the Packers.

The penalties piled up at a historic pace last night against Baltimore as the two most penalized teams in the league squared off. The big difference though: the Packers finished the game 8-4, in good position for the play-offs. The Ravens wind up 6-6 and in need of a win streak, not to mention serious help to get into the play-offs.

The reason the Packers have been able to overcome these terrible mistakes? The defense.

Let me try to put this into perspective. The Packers are the second most penalized team in the league, creating awful down and distances for their offense, and gifting yards to opponents when on defense.

Green Bay also tops the leagues in sacks allowed by a huge margin, crippling the offense when it comes to flexibility based on distance. Take into account horrible special teams coverage and this defense has been put in some horrible situations.

Perhaps most costly, the Packers red zone offense has been mediocre and the kicking game has been a disgrace.

Now here are a few numbers: eight, one, three, four. Those are the Packers ranks in points allowed, total yards, passing yards and rushing yards. That means no one gives up fewer yards which in some ways makes sense when you consider the defense is often in a position to defend a short field.

However, the Packers top 10 ranking in points means the defense is holding.  The Packers still have the best turnover differential in the league and only the Saints have picked off more passes. Green Bay ranks third in forcing fumbles, and has quietly moved up to 14th in sacks.

Charles Woodson has shown the league what Packer fans have known for the last few years: he’s a superstar caliber player. Clay Matthews and Brad Jones are becoming terrors off the edge, and if you don’t think BJ Raji is going to be a force, you haven’t been watching.

When you have a defense like this, forcing turnovers and getting stops, it allows you to overcome the ineptitude of your offense, or your own lack of discipline defensively.

One drive from last night in particular is a perfect example. A questionable (but correct) pass interference call in the end zone on Tramon Williams put the ball at the one yard line. On first down, Charles Woodson knifes into the backfield, makes a shoe-string tackle, and drops Ray Rice in the backfield.

On second down, the Packers blanket the Raven receivers, force Flacco out of the pocket, leading to a poor decision and an interception. The Packers allow the Ravens into the red zone, but the net results? Zero points.

You win in December with defense, and you win in the play-offs with defense.  Green Bay's D seems to get better every week as the unit continues to develop continuity and the young players hit their stride.

Can you think of the last time a team went 80 yards on this defense? It seems the only time a team has any chance of scoring is off a miscue from the Packer offense or special teams.

The offense may or may not find a rhythm in the last four weeks, but with everyone getting healthy and that offensive line finally protecting Aaron Rodgers, there seems at least a good chance of growth and consistency. This offense is far too talented to not score points, particularly with Mr. I Dare You To Cover Me, Jermichael Finley, healthy and a focal point of the passing game.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the identity of this team is the defense. As talented as Aaron Rodgers and company are, this team can go as far as they want to if the defense continues to come up with stops when they need them.

I’ve heard a saying (A non-Lombardi one this time) that goes something like, “Greatness is being at your best when your best is needed.”  That means penalties and miscues don’t have to be killers as long as you make the plays when you have to have them. The Packers need the best from this defense for the next four weeks and beyond. If they get it, Green Bay has a chance to be great this season.