I wonder how many sports writers have started an article off with the phrase: Defense wins championships. Undoubtedly, that number must be in the millions if not trillions, I mean it’s such a catchy saying.
There might be a method behind the madness, though. For instance, look at just the past three Super Bowls.
Last year, the Saints' Tracy Porter, picked off Peyton Manning essentially sealing the game for New Orleans. Defense played a key part in the 2008 Super Bowl. James Harrison's 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half comes to mind, and in 2007 the New York Giants' defensive pressure on Tom Brady proved to be a key element in unraveling New England’s perfect season.
I believe that the record very clearly shows that this overused, but underappreciated cliché is the real deal. So without further ado:
Defense wins championships.
When I look at the 2010 Green Bay Packers, I see a team that needs to take that saying, post it up in the locker room, tattoo it onto their foreheads and perhaps even rename their children in light of it.
This is a team that has been ravaged by the injury bug. It got to a point where it seemed like every game they were losing two or three starters, and then their replacements would go down as well!
The offense took key hits with the loss of running back Ryan Grant, and then suffered an even bigger hit when up-and-coming star, Jermichael Finley, was lost for the season. The defense followed suit losing Nick Barnett for the season, as well as having a few other key players hindered by injury.
Truth is: The Green Bay Packers are a completely different team than any of us thought they were going to be at the beginning of the season.
Coming into 2010, many people had picked the Pack to be the NFC’s representative for the Super Bowl, but I have a feeling that much of the hype was primarily on the offense.
Aaron Rodgers was coming off a breakout year in 2009. With Jermichael Finley coming into his own, as well as a rejuvenated Ryan Grant and receiving core; the Packers offense looked primed to really light it up.
The offense suffered heavily with the loss of Grant. The running game is obviously a key component to any offense, but the Packers of all teams rely heavily on it to set up the play-action pass, and to keep Rodgers mobile and away from pressure.
John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson have been adequate fill- ins for Grant, but that lack of a real running threat has really hindered the offensive production. In nine games, the running game has produced only 914 yards and seven touchdowns, which is average at best. Keep in mind that three of those touchdowns have been compliments of Aaron Rodgers, but even he hasn’t been immune to poor play.
At times, Aaron has been uncharacteristically inaccurate, and has already thrown nine interceptions on the season compared to a total of just seven in 2009. Now, granted the offense did bounce back to look very good against the Cowboys, posting up 45 points and 415 total yards, but keep in mind the Cowboys in no way should be a barometer of success. After all, they did fire their head coach after the loss.
With all this said: I think if the Packers have any hope left at making a strong bid for the Super Bowl, the key rests firmly in the hands of the defense. They boast one of the most dynamic and dominant defenses in the NFL, and I truly believe that they are capable of winning games on their own.
With the offense being banged up and inconsistent at times, the importance of a dominating defensive performance is even more amplified as the season progresses. Let’s take a look at five players that I believe are a key to the Packers defensive success.
This was an easy first choice. Simply put, Clay Matthews is a beast. He is a freak of nature, I’m not even sure if he is fully human.
He missed two games with a pulled hamstring and still leads the league with 10.5 sacks. If you watched the two games he missed against the Redskins and Dolphins, you could tell that there was an incredible difference in the amount of pressure that the Packers were able to get on the quarterback.
Ironically enough, both games were losses. Even when Matthews is not sacking quarterbacks, he is still giving them a scare.
I distinctly remember two or three plays on Sunday night where Matthews put quite a licking on Jon Kitna. You could tell that as time went on, Kitna became more and more timid. Subsequently, Matthews became more and more aggressive.
Even though Charles Woodson’s numbers have dropped from last year, he is still making an impact in every game. He is easily one of the best cover-corners in the league, but his presence in the running and blitz game can sometimes be overlooked.
He still has two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a sack thus far. I can only see those numbers improving.
On the other side of Woodson, Tramon Williams has surprised many by stepping up and making plays at crucial spots in games. He leads the team with three interceptions, and he also has a sack and a fumble recovery.
With the plethora of injuries in the defensive backfield it became important that someone other than Woodson was able to defend the pass and demand respect from the offense. Tramon is no superstar just yet, but if he continues his solid play he could be well on his way.
Even though A.J. was bumped out of the starting lineup at the beginning of the year, he proved to be a true professional and continued to work hard and be a team leader. When starting linebacker Nick Barnett went down, obviously it became imperative for Hawk to fill in and not miss a beat.
While A.J has been criticized in the past for lack of mobility and his ability to defend the pass, he has seemed to put those demons aside and has been a playmaker for the Packers. He leads the team with 68 tackles, and has ripped down two big interceptions.
He might not be the player we all wanted him to be, but he has shown that he is a capable middle linebacker in the NFL, and I expect for him to continue to produce.
I believe that B.J is the unsung hero of the Packers defense. With stars like Matthews and Woodson, obviously it is easy to be looked over, but I think this man deserves some credit.
As a nose tackle, he has 2.5 sacks and 25 tackles so far on the year. This may seem pedestrian, but consider that the nose tackle is double-teamed countless times a game, and some would say their main purpose is to clog up the middle and allow other players to make the tackle.
Raji has been able to get some good pressure into the backfield, and at the same time does a good job clogging up running lanes. He might not get many style points or statistics, but specifically in the 3-4 defense he might just be the most important piece of the puzzle, and he does his job well.
Let me just come out and say it. Straight up, I believe that the Packers have a Super Bowl-caliber defense. We have already seen that they have the ability to shutout an opponent, and they have a knack for pushing an offense out of its rhythm and causing turnovers.
Even though the offense has been sub-par and inconsistent, I truly do think that the defense is more than good enough to make up for that. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense is more than capable of scoring at least seven points in a game, and the defense has shown that even a field goal would be enough of a cushion for them.
If the players that I highlighted keep on producing the way they have, and the offense is able to stabilize a bit, than I can see how it would be possible for the Packers to ride their defense straight to Dallas come the end of the year.
Defense wins championships. Let’s see if the Packers can take that to heart, and make the old cliché prove true for yet another year.