Rookie CB Sam Shields Had Two Picks and a Sack Against Chicago
The 2010 Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl bound and they have their defense to thank for it. Despite the offense garnering the lion share of the headlines throughout the season, it's really the defense that has carried the team through their playoff run.
A season where both sides of the ball have incurred numerous injuries, it's the defense that has maintained a championship level of consistency where the offense has struggled at times.
Which is essentially the polar opposite of the 2009 season where a defense suffered some injuries to the secondary but otherwise remained healthy and was nearly invisible in several high profile match-ups.
None more important than the record setting playoff defeat to the Arizona Cardinals which ended the Packer season.
But what a difference a good secondary makes in the QB friendly NFL.
In 2010 the Packers have suffered several devastating injuries to front line players such as LB Nick Barnett, TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant just to name a few. However, they are preparing for a Superbowl appearance where last year they were the dreaded "one and done" team regardless of the career day for the Aaron Rodgers led offense.
Sunday, Aaron Rodgers had one of his worst outings of his career in the biggest game of his career and the Packers still won on the road in Chicago in the NFC Championship.
Who Do You Like In This Match Up?
So what gives? Or should I say what taketh away?
The Packer secondary.
A secondary that includes CBs Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson. The safeties are Charlie Peprah and Nick Collins. All told three pro-bowlers (since Tramon Williams was added as a sub) and an all-rookie team type in Sam Shields.
Like a good closer in baseball, the Packer secondary has closed out games and in one case (Atlanta), decided the game with two first half interceptions of QB Matt Ryan.
If this were a best out of seven series, they would have three saves going back to the ending of the Week 17 Bear game. Plus the Atlanta game gives an Albert Pujols element to the secondary with Tramon Williams hitting a grand slam early in the game with his pick six to end the first half.
Despite all that, the media coverage has certainly been focused on QB Aaron Rodgers and how he and his talented group on offense match-up against the opponents' defense. And deservedly so coming off the huge game against Atlanta.
But the offense struggled against Chicago in the season finale and in the NFC Championship while they weren't exactly dominant against Philadelphia either.
Meanwhile, the defense has been the definition of consistency for pretty much the entire season helping the Packers to remain very competitive while adjusting to several key injuries.
I know it's year two of the Packer defense under Dom Capers. I know DT B.J. Raji and OLB Clay Matthews are better in year two of their careers. But it was still bugging me that there was something else making this defense so much better but what was it?
It's the secondary. Remember back in 2009 when players and fans alike were criticizing defensive coordinator Dom Capers for his lack of blitzing in key games against QBs Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner?
And Dom would reply with the boring "Injuries are limiting what we can do..." type of response. Well, in hindsight it all makes sense. Of all the Packer injuries, only the secondary has really been spared on defense during the 2010 season.
Where in 2009 that was the hardest hit position group while the team as a whole had less injuries.
In 2010, rookie S Morgan Burnett was lost early but S Charlie Peprah has filled in nicely for the majority of the season and the secondary has remained largely the same with small tweaks here and there.
And now I understand what Capers was saying. The outstanding coverage is what makes all the fun stuff happen up front. While I was always focused on the front seven causing pressure relieving your secondary from the duty of coverage, now I understand that a good secondary can put the quarterback on his heels as much as a good pass rush.
I now get how good coverage can flip that thought and allow the front seven time to get after the QB.
There has been plenty of coverage (no pun intended) suggesting the Packers have the best WR core in the league, but I think you can make a case that they also have the best secondary in the league.
And so it seems fitting that it's largely their fault that nobody on the Packer roster will enjoy a trip to Hawaii this year since they have to play yet another game.
This could be the difference in what may again, carry the Packers to victory in another tight game against a high quality opponent. The AFC Championship showed Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger to make some mistakes that the Jets could not and did not take advantage of.
You don't want to make those same mistakes against a very confident and opportunistic Packer secondary. They have shown that attempting a late, game-winning drive against them is like trying to hit a walk off home run against Mariano Rivera. It just doesn't happen. Especially not in the playoffs.
This is going to be a long two weeks. I can't wait for these teams to matchup.