The Burke Blotter: Is the Packers’ Defense For Real?

Sunday marks the halfway point of the Green Bay Packers’ 2014 season, but for defensive coordinator Dom Capers it actually is much more than that.

After a sluggish start to the season, Capers’ defense has come to life and is finally again performing near the level it was in 2010 when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV. For fans who have been calling for the firing of Capers, the recent play of the defense has silenced those calls for now.

Some have wondered whether or not the defense is for real, even after putting together several solid efforts. It’s a valid argument to make. After getting lit up by Russell Wilson and even Geno Smith (in one half anyway), the Packers have effectively shut down the likes of Jay Cutler, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton. They also did a decent job against Matthew Stafford despite losing to the Detroit Lions.

None are truly elite quarterbacks. You don’t know which Cutler will show up and though the Packers shut down Newton’s read-option, he is no Colin Kaepernick when it comes to running that offense.

This Sunday, we should have a pretty good idea whether Green Bay’s defense is truly a contender or just a pretender.

Sunday, the Packers face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

Don’t be fooled by the Saints’ 2-4 record. Brees hasn’t been at his best, but he’s still arguably the best quarterback the Packers will face all season until Tom Brady and the Patriots come to Lambeau Field in Week 13. New Orleans’ defense has been atrocious. That’s not good for any quarterback no matter how talented they are. Just ask Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn from 2013.

If the Packers’ defense truly wants people to think they’re for real, they have to shut down Brees and company. With Sam Shields likely still out and a good chance Morgan Burnett will not be able to go either, this game as all the makings of an aerial shootout. The last time the two teams played, it came down to a final goal line stand by the Green Bay defense to seal the Week 1 win.

So far this season, the defense has played well but there is still legitimate concern that it could still be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Clay Matthews played better against the Panthers, but he still has had a rough season. The inside linebacker position remains a mess and the secondary, while gifted, still has a tendency to badly miss tackles from time to time.

The game against the Saints will be a big barometer. Will Jimmy Graham expose the inside linebacker position? Will Brees shred the wounded Packers secondary? Can the Packers defense get to Brees who has been sacked eight times so far this season?

All eyes are on the battle between Brees and Rodgers, but really this game can be the defining moment of the season for the Green Bay defense. They’ve been pushed around and dismissed for years and while this is the most talented defense the Packers have since 2010, they have yet to put a feather in their cap in the 2014 season against a truly elite offense.

The game Sunday night would be a good start. No matter what they might say, many Packers fans still have doubts about this defense. They have been let down far too many times, especially late in a season, to truly believe the defense has been turned around.

Stifling Brees would go a long way. It’s only the halfway mark of the season, but a win over the Saints with a dominating defensive performance would give Packers fans a big confidence boost heading into the bye week while firing up the players for a big stretch run.

It’ll be a challenge, but this is Dom Capers’ turn to tell fans to “R-E-L-A-X.”

If that word has same effect on the defense as it did on the offense, then Packer Nation has nothing to worry about.

Until then, consider them unconvinced.


Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and


24 thoughts on “The Burke Blotter: Is the Packers’ Defense For Real?

  1. Kris – good article. I am one of those who is still not convinced that the Packers defense is ready to shut down an offense like the Saints and QB Drew Brees. I hope that I m proven wrong this Sunday. If the Packers win in a shootout that’s fine for me. A win in NO is a big deal no matter how it is accomplished, but it will not convince me that our defense is ready to stop a big time offense, especially on the road. Now if we do actually shut down the Saints offense, e.g., hold them to 21 or less points, then I will be impressed. But I am expecting the Saints to come out guns blazing and to throw everything they have at the Packers. They need this game. No matter how good they are, they know that 2-5 is a big hole to come back from even in what is shaping up to be a pretty weak division. The Saints score high and play well at home. I believe that the Packers can win this game, but it will be with Rodgers arm and Lacy’s runs. I’m expecting plenty of offense and not much proof that our defense has improved very much. But again, hopefully, I am wrong. I’ll take the win any way we get it. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    1. I think its a mistake to expect any defense to ‘shut down’ a team like the Saints. People seem to set their expectations for our defense to resemble the Lomardi D or the Steel Curtain, and that type of defense simply isn’t allowed by the rules any more.

      New Orleans has an outstanding QB and receivers, who have all the advantage in the modern game. If the Packers can hold Brees + co to 28 points, collect a turnover or two, and make a stop late in the 4th quarter, the Packers D will have done its job on Sunday.

      Personally I’d be happy with just a win, regardless of score.

  2. Kris – you must have crawled inside my head because you nailed my concerns. The Saints offense will show us what we really have under the hood. It would be nice to have all the pieces on the field to get a complete picture. This defense minus, Burnett and Shields will be more vulnerable against a great passing attack. However, my biggest concern is over the middle against our ILB. I don’t want to see a defense forced into constant adjustment because we can’t handle TE’s catching passes.

    Not to be pessimistic but I don’t like the way this game has been framed. The Saints play pretty well against a good Lions team only to fumble a win away. At 2-4, the Saints will be playing with energy and desperation. The Packers waltz in with a big blowout against Carolina. Let’s hope that the guys match the Saints level of intensity right out of the blocks.

  3. Will Jimmy Graham expose the ILB position? YES he will. However, Ha Ha Eddie Murphy is going to lay some wood on him and take him out of the game.

  4. The ‘proofing’ of this defense, in this game, has the chance to flesh out the identity of this team for the 2014 season. Nothing begets success like success, but even in the face of the roll that the Packers D has been on for the last 4 games, there are still the niggling whispers of doubt, ‘not a winning team, not an elite QB’. And despite the fact that the Saints will remain a sub-.500 team win or lose, the challenge of Brees, Payton and the Superdome makes a standout defensive effort a confirmation of the D’s progress and improvement. It lets them go into the bye, not WONDERING IF, but BELIEVING that they are ‘better’.

    The Saints D is in somewhat of a crisis, so they have hob-goblins of their own to deal with. Who will have their guys’ throttle pinned to the floor once the ball’s kicked? Capers or Ryan?

    I don’t want Capers telling the fans to R-E-L-A-X. I want him telling the fans that he’s finally turned his guys into full-on meat eaters that he’s been starving for a week and he’s ready to let ’em eat Sunday night.

    This one is going to be as much about ‘tude, as it is skill.

  5. With many already attempting the comparison angle of this teams defense with the 10′ defense,allowing Brees to light up the score board,even if we come away with the win,should instantly end the comparisons.

    We often read how deep our secondary is and yet,before the game is even played,we are witnessing the excuse of player loss coming to its defense whether a win or loss of the game.

    Has this defense really proved itself to date…Sea didn’t allow the covers removed from over our heads,Det appears riding on past reputation as to offense,the Jets are playground level,the Bears gashed us,the Panthers offered up nothing,the Vikings shouldn’t be mentioned at all and we allowed Tannehill and Miami to take us to .03 seconds with 3 drives of 80 yds in a row.

    The schedule favors the Packers greatly after the bye with having to face two maybe three(if Bears rebound) offenses that can actually be a test of value to rate the defense as being legit.

    I like how the defensive players have progressed and more needs to be witnessed this week,because doing so in these types of games is what really earns the comparisons that many have already and want to continue making for this teams defense.

    Getting a win will be great but the defense needs to make a statement of some degree in NOL. 🙂

  6. “…he is no Colin Kaepernick when it comes to running that offense”. Why do people keep giving Kaeperdick this kind of ridiculous credit??? That guy has a million receivers and yet he can only average about 200 passing yards a game. Cam Newton has consistently worked with below average receivers, and he’s a 6’5″ tall mojo who can run just as every bit as effective as Kaeperdick. Newton is easily better than that little fruit cake!

    When Kaeperdick ran, he ran because there was a giant hole! He didn’t draw up or call a some scheme to make one, he saw one and ran. Any quarterback could have taken advantage of that! If it were Newton he would have had just as many rushing yards.

    Plus Kaeperdick has that school boy, butterfly annoying smile so screw him. I hate that punk.

  7. QUIZ: Which NFL team has held opposing QBs to the lowest passer rating? Answer: Green Bay Packers (average opponent passer rating 74). Where does New Orleans rank in opponent passer rating? They’re 24th (99.9).

    Both Green Bay and New Orleans have faced teams whose passer rating is about 85.5. Green Bay has held opposing passers 12 points BELOW that. New Orleans has allowed passers to rate 14 points ABOVE that.

    As for passing yards allowed, Green Bay’s defense ranks fifth (215 yards), only seven yards per game out of first place. New Orleans? They’re 28th (271 yards).

    Advantage: Green Bay.

  8. Yep. This game has me concerned on defense as well. NO is going to be desperate and the Superdome is one of the hardest places to play in the NFL.

    I think it’s quite possible we lose a shootout. DT and ILB really are concerning – and there’s nothing we can do about it this year.

    1. DT and ILB are concerning? Ah, we have Pennel and Barrington now. All the holes are filled. The Packers defense is for real. New Orleans is a team on the decline.

      1. I like Pennel too, but he is a rookie and is not yet starting quality. If he beats out Guion (and he might), we can renew this discussion. GB should bring Pennel along and accept some rookie mistakes. I didn’t respond to Jeff yesterday, but I know of no evidence that suggests Bradford and/or Elliott are ready to see the field at ILB. I know of no evidence suggesting that Barrington is pushing Hawk (who is JAG) for snaps. Brad Jones seems to be regressing, but if he can get back to his 2012 form, he would be a very good back-up for Lattimore. Of the ILBs, I would not rate any of them as a plus player; Lattimore and Hawk might be average NFL starters, with a (-) after their names.

  9. I understand the reason to believe this isn’t a shoo-in game. First thing I thought after we won last week was “REALLY good victory today, but man, NO’s is gonna be both super pissed and desperate. And they’re playing at home too, one of the loudest venues in the NFL”.

    This is no regular 2-4 team. They may look like a team that’s buried too deep to recover, but their division is still wide open. They can make the playoffs and they know it. The Packers were 2-3 in their Super Bowl run, so we know from experience that a losing record could be very deceiving. Can’t hope for a dominating game here, just hope we can take the W.

    That being said, isn’t this article just a little too pessimistic?

  10. Interesting article. I’m still skeptical about this defense. And the problem is the rush defense.

    They’re #1 in opposite QB rating, the stat which I consider the most important against the pass. And that’s awesome. In this era, being stout against the pass is the most important aspect of fielding a great defense.

    They’re also #2 in takeaways.

    Those two stats are incredibly important, though the latter influences the first. But if you have a better turnover margin than the opposition, and your QB has a higher rating than the opposition, chances are you’ll win the game.

    But there are two stats that are deeply troubling.

    The first is third down conversions. They’re 22nd, allowing the offense a first down on 46% of the time. So they don’t get off the field often, which can lead to the defense being tired late in the game. This is correlated to the turnovers, in a sense that both mean the defense gets off the field. Tough a turnover is much better than a third down stop, it’s also much, much more unpredictable.

    The second is rushing yards allowed per attempt. Yards is not a very important stat in itself, when we’re talking about the pass. But it is for the run, because of four factors: one, rush scoring is much less common than pass scoring, so scoring isn’t as important when quantifying a rush defense. Two, fumbles are less common than interceptions. There have been 132 fumbles recovered by the defense so far, to 245 interceptions. So turnovers are not as important. Three, and more importantly, it’s harder to move through the field (a.k.a. gain yards) by rushing than by passing. The Chiefs, the last team in the league in total passing yards, have 1,198. The Cowboys, the best team in rushing, has 1,118. And four, by rushing you accumulate time of possession more easily than by passing, because the clock only stops if you run out of bounds, which occurs less commonly than an incomplete pass.

    Anyway, in rushing yards per attempt, which is more important than total yards, because if your offense scores constantly, and the Packers’ does, the opposition will not run as much, the Packers’ D is 25th, giving 4.6 yards per gain. This means the opposition has a lot of success when they run, which in turns means they keep the ball more, tiring the defense, and more importantly, the threat of the run is always present, so the Packers’ D can only commit to the pass when on a big lead, or on 3rd and long.

    All this to say, it’s classic Capers’ short blanket. When Capers fixes a problem, another arises. When the Packers sucks against the pass, next season they’ll suffer against the run, and vice versa.

    Now, pass defense is more important in this league, and they’re the best against the pass. And by getting a lot of turnovers, they can get off the field. But turnovers are inconsistent. What’s consistent is 3rd down percentage, and they suck in that. They also suck against the run. So they get tired often.

    As it is now, I think we’ll reach the playoffs. In there, we’ll face great rush teams, be it the 49ers, the Seahawks, or the Cowboys. And unless we get a turnover, we’ll struggle against them.

    If the Defense can improve a bit on those two stats, getting to the middle of the table, then the positive will far outweight the negative. But right now, by the way the playoffs are shaping, and by the characteristics of the best teams in the NFC, our defense is not “for real”, and we’ll need luck to beat them, if things continue as it is.

  11. Not worried at all about this game or our defense. Drew Brees is Russell Wilson without any legs. Brees is the type of qb that this defense is dominating against. I am sure they are all licking their chops at finally facing a short stay in the pocket qb that doesn’t run and is throwing a lot of int’s. It’s like a vacation compared to playing someone like Wilson. Brees will throw 3 int’s and one will be returned for a td. Green Bay wins again going away and ends their 19 game home win streak.. For the record, I predicted a blowout win against Carolina when nobody else did.

  12. New Orleans was a bad team last year. They remain so this year. Their home wins came against crap teams (TB took them to OT) and they haven’t won on the road. That’s a bad team. The packers matchup well against them. It might be a shootout, it might be ugly, but I expect the packers to win this one.

  13. I’ll say it again .here at Jersey Al’s. Pack wins big. Even though with Brees I’m a nervous wreck this week, I think
    that as hot as Rodgers is and that Lacy, Starks, Nelson ,Adams and Cobb
    are going to have great games. And I think
    the D wants to show on a big stage they are for real. I sense something and I’m going with my

  14. What was not mentioned is the Packers are catching a huge break with the Saints missing its top two RB’s. Brees is expected to throw and now there is almost no threat of the run, the entire Packer defense can focus on stopping the pass. One sided offenses like that should be an advantage-Packers so we will really see what sort of defense Capers has on his hands.

    1. Great catch. Totally agree that you don’t see this mentioned much in the pregame analysis and gives Capers a big advantage.

  15. I feel like this game only has the possibility of negative implications or of maintaining the status quo… It can be looked at as promising if we shutdown the Saints but will not do much for our stock in my eyes other than demonstrate consistency (which is important but it is not shutting down an elite offfense that alot of people are making it out to be and certainly not the type of definitive statement that people are hoping that we make.) some might call this pessimistic but bear with me and let me explain.

    scenario 1
    If we dominate and shut down the Saints it demonstrates consistency because our defense has been playing well lately. but what have we really proven? The saints, even in drew brees prime and especially when brees has been at his best have ALWAYS had a decent to above average run game… at some points maybe even approaching the realm of elite. but brees is down to one RB which means the Saints are fairly one dimensional. So if we dominate then we beat a one dimensional Saints offense against an aging QB who has had a significant drop off this year and a saints d that has been gashed by every team they have faced. We’re SUPPOSED to dominate this game IMO. it’s expected and if we do what we’re SUPPOSED to do it merely demonstrates consistency. that is best case. (I know some “experts” are split on their opinions of whether we should win or lose but IMO we should dominate).

    scenario 2
    We beat the saints in a close low scoring game. if we do this then our defense demonstrates consistency but it brings up concerns about our offense which is already under a little fire for not putting up huge stats as far as yardage etc.
    scneario 3
    we beat the saints in a shootout. in this case our defense, which is the more scrutinized of the 2 units
    and rightfully so, demonstrates the inability to shutdown or even slow down a depleted offense so even if we get the win it’s still not a win that has good playoff implications. new orleans is a difficult venue but when you take into consideration all the factors that affect the game: level of play of the team, venue, coaching, injuries, etc. this is not one of the most difficult the packers will run into especially come playoff time.
    scenario 4
    we get beat. if we lose this game there will be nothing this team can do based on our schedule to silence the naysayers for the rest of the season except maybe a dominant showing against the Patriots week 13… ESPECIALLY if we lose by a large margin. if we get blown out it would be horrible for morale and our team confidence as a whole and the playoff iplications are wretched. although things can shape up differently come the second half of the season and anyone who thinks they can accurately predict a playoff picture or a teams playoff success half way through the season especially in today’s nfl where a wildcard team has won the superbowl around 50% of the time over the past decade is either arrogant to a fault or stupid, no one can argue that the playoff IMPLICATION is very negative.

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