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 AllGreenBayPackers.com 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 CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke