After thoroughly trouncing the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 48 to 21 on Saturday, – and with the New England Patriots now out of the way – the Green Bay Packers have become the new favorites to win Super Bowl XLV. And it should come as no surprise that Aaron Rodgers has become the talk of the National Football League with his surgical dismantling of the Falcons’ secondary.
What many fail to recognize, however, is that the Green Bay defense under coordinator Dom Capers is the unit that really drives this team.
Okay, so Aaron Rodgers is playing the best football of his career right now. He’s finally won a playoff game, and he played almost perfectly in his second postseason victory. Some are saying Rodgers is the league’s scariest quarterback. Others are calling him a cross between Dan Marino and Steve Young.
Even fans of the rival Chicago Bears wish Rodgers – and not Cutler – was playing for their team.
But let’s not forget one simple fact: it is Tramon Williams, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and the rest of the Packers’ defense that this team consistently leans on.
The old adage that “the offense sells the tickets, but the defense wins the championships” could not have rung truer during this weekend’s Divisional Round. All four winning teams – the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and New York Jets – ranked in the top six scoring defenses during the regular season. Meanwhile, only one of these teams ranked within the top ten scoring offenses: the Packers, right at number ten.
So it should come as no surprise that Caper’s defense was a big part of Green Bay making to the NFC Championship and having a shot at the Super Bowl.
In their past four “elimination” games, beginning with the New York Giants in Week 16, the Packers defense has allowed only 6 touchdowns and 3 field goals. Taking into consideration the Philadelphia Eagles’ failed two-point conversion, that’s an average of 12.5 points per game.
Within that same span, Green Bay also has nine interceptions and four fumble recoveries to their name.
Very recently, those turnovers have been the difference makers.
Holding the other team to as few points as possible is always part of the winning formula. However, when the opposing offense is making a drive in the final minutes of the game to take the lead, that’s when the defense really has to prove its worth.
And they did just that against the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles.
After stalled offensive drives forced Green Bay to punt back to their opponents, the Packers needed a big defensive stop in both games to ensure a victory. Dom Capers decided to play it relatively safe and not give up the big play. He forced the other team to work their way down the field, eating up the clock as they went. And then, just as both teams made it close to the red zone, they were sent packing with game-clinching interceptions.
For the Bears, it was safety Nick Collins who made the big play. For the Eagles, it was none other than cornerback Tramon Williams, the defensive star of the postseason.
In addition to his endzone interception in Philadelphia, Williams was virtually the player responsible for the big swing in momentum against the Atlanta Falcons.
During the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense were able to rebound after Eric Weems’ record-breaking kickoff return with a 92-yard touchdown drive that ate up almost six minutes of clock time. Unfortunately, this still left another six minutes in the half for Atlanta to march down the field and respond in kind.
The game was already looking to be a neck-and-neck race with relatively few possessions to score. Both offenses had shown they could manage the clock, but the Packers already had two big plays going against them.
Sure, it was the offense that was keeping them in the game, yet the defense ended up turning the tide and swinging the momentum quite drastically.
As Atlanta began moving surely down the field once again, they soon found themselves back in the red zone, ready to score. But unlike the last Falcons’ scoring drive, the Packers defense was able to hold steady. A stuffed run, a false start penalty, and a sack by Charles Woodson set up a long third-and-21 for Matt Ryan and company.
On the ensuing play, Tramon Williams gave Packers fans flashbacks to the Wild Card game by making another leaping interception in the end zone.
Aaron Rodgers marched his unit back down the field to take the lead with their third touchdown, and the Falcons were suddenly playing from behind.
But then the second dagger was delivered.
Looking to get into better position for a field goal attempt, Matt Ryan threw an outside pass to Roddy White. Unfortunately for them, it never connected. Tramon jumped the route and took the rock to the house.
In the span of only 2:30 minutes on the game clock, Green Bay had moved ahead of Atlanta by two touchdowns.
And all of it was made possible by the defense.
Throughout the season, the Green Bay Packers offense showed a lot of inconsistency. Losing Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley early on to injury forced Mike McCarthy to rework a large part of his unit. Even then, they still struggled with dropped passes, mental errors, and bad pad level. (Okay, so maybe not so much that last one.)
And even though the defense had experienced more than their fair share of losses to important players, they seemed to be mostly unfazed by it.
Not once during any game did the Packers ever find themselves down by more than a touchdown.
Not once did they lose a game by more than four points.
For all the times the offense struggled to produce points, the defense was there to keep them in the game. It’s why they ranked second in the league for points allowed during the regular season.
And in these last few games, when it has mattered the most, the defense was there to redirect the momentum and shut down any last minute attempts by the opponent to make the go-ahead score.
Mike McCarthy may be an offensive-minded coach, but it is his defense on which he relies the most. He has, after all, deferred four of his last five coin toss wins, which says something about his confidence in the defense.
If the Green Bay Packers are to beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, it will be because Dom Capers and the defense make it happen.
And I have all the faith in the world that they continue to rise to the occasion.——————Follow @ChadToporski