B.J. Raji Has Quietly Anchored Green Bay's D All Season
Let the season begin anew with the 2010 NFL playoffs right around the corner.
This weekend the Packers will return to the playoffs for the second consecutive year to face the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.
The Packers defeated the Eagles in the season opener but little can be drawn from that contest in previewing this week's matchup.
The Eagles started QB Kevin Kolb where they now start an MVP-candidate in Michael Vick. The dynamic QB has dazzled the league with big plays both with his arm and legs.
Like many teams, the Eagles and Packers have had their fair share of injuries too since the opener making those opening day lineups seem like a distant past. The Packers themselves suffering the league-lead in terms of players on the injured reserve list.
Many question marks surrounded the Packer defense entering the season where this current Packer team boasts a highly ranked defense in most categories, especially against the pass, despite the many injuries suffered.
Their ability (or potential lack thereof) to stop or at least contain Michael Vick and their speedy offense will be the key element to enjoy some postseason success where they did not last year.
It still seems all too fresh a memory to recall the Packers' heart-breaking defeat last year to the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card round. Record setting yards and points were tallied by both squads with the Packers coming up on the short end.
What Do You Think Of The Packers' D?
This year, could be, should be different. In contrast to the current squad, the 2009 Packers showed signs of a troubled unit that had some misleading statistics.
Yes, they created numerous turnovers and return TDs, But they also showed no signs of being able to slow down QBs such as Brett Favre (twice), Ben Roethlisberger and lastly Kurt Warner in the playoffs.
The 2010 Packer defense has been much more consistent on a weekly basis and ranks first in the NFC allowing only 15 points per game on average. A pretty important statistic concerning defense.
Michael Vick versus the Packer defense is what I find to be the most intriguing story of the game because the Green Bay Packer defense was a major disappointment in last year's playoff game.
And because of that disappointment, it seems every week I continue to wait for the injuries to catch up with the defense and the backup, backup players to be exposed. However, the Green Bay Packers, at least in terms of allowing points, have risen to the occasion virtually every week.
Every week I find myself asking this question: "Is this really a legitimate defense?" "Will they finally struggle to stop (insert opposing player here)?" And weekly they have been solid in keeping this injury-riddled team competing and now winning a playoff berth.
After limiting a confident Bears offense to just three points in the season finale, I'll ask again: "Is their defense really this good or will the Packer defense finally be exposed?"
And after 16 games, I think I'm finally starting to believe that this is really a good defense. Last year's let-downs have kept me very skeptical and just not quite ready to take the leap in committing to them.
If they put up another solid performance against a dynamic Philadelphia offense on the road, then I think we can finally start believing in their "legitimate" defense.
For so many years the Packers have been a franchise defined by their QB and their offense. The Packers were never to be confused with teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago or Baltimore when discussing defense.
Although, while QB Aaron Rodgers and the offense still garner plenty of headlines, defensive coordinator Dom Capers has quietly put Green Bay among the elite defenses in the NFL without much notice (only Pittsburgh allowed fewer points this year).
With some help as well from GM Ted Thompson who has also added key players such as NT B.J. Raji (6.5 sacks) OLB Clay Matthews (13.5 sacks), both from the 2009 draft, among other young players stepping up who have been acquired in recent years.
Is Vick Wearing Down?
And what do they say again about defense? It wins championships? We'll see if Green Bay in fact has a championship-caliber defense starting this Sunday.
What to watch: Michael Vick has struggled with more turnovers in the latter part of the season. I wonder if fatigue plays a part. He hasn't been the starting QB for an entire season for several years.
Is the grind of a 16-game season with plenty of runs, sacks and collisions taking its toll? I think so. Michael Vick is now 30 years old and, when compared to running backs (as Vick often imitates), that's when you tend to see signs of decline.
In recent weeks (excluding the amazing seven-minute comeback in NY) it seems Vick is just a step or two slower than he was midseason. Passes haven't been as accurate and turnovers have increased. Hopefully, this holds true and the Packer defense can take advantage.
Happy New Year and enjoy the playoffs!