The Green Bay Packers’ defense gave up a whopping 477 yards Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field, the second-highest regular-season total since Dom Capers arrived as defensive coordinator in 2009.
So why didn’t Capers look or sound concerned a day after the season opener?
Capers has supreme confidence in the defense’s ability and won’t let the Saints’ bulging yardage total change his opinion. He also knows that despite what the final stat sheet indicates, the defense played a major role in the Packers’ 42-34 victory over New Orleans.
“The bottom line is doing what it takes to win the game,” Capers said.
“I think what good teams do is find a way to make the critical plays in the game that enables you to win the football game. I thought our guys did that.”
Although the Packers gave up their share of big gains against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the defense repeatedly produced game-changing plays.
Maybe that’s why Capers maintained his steady-as-it-goes demeanor. He never seems to get rattled, and you’d never know from the sound of his soothing voice whether the defense just pitched a shutout or got lit up for 500 yards.
Perhaps Capers’ years as an NFL head coach in Carolina and Houston trained him to remain calm in the eye of the storms, which inevitably come in pro football. Brees and the Saints’ high-powered offense proved to be a mighty test, and it wasn’t always pretty for the Packers. But in the end, Capers and his bend-but-don’t-break defense remained standing.
“When you look at these kind of games, you critique ’em,” Capers said. “You know you’re going against one of the top quarterbacks in the league. They’re going to make their plays. They’re a very good offensive football team. They’ve been doing it for quite some time.”
The Saints under coach Sean Payton have featured one of the best offenses in the NFL over the past five seasons and shattered the 400-yard mark five times last year. Their high-powered offense, which included 419 passing yards by Brees on Thursday, might be the most potent attack the Packers will face this season.
Most offenses will seem tame in comparison to the Saints, who scored three offensive touchdowns but otherwise struggled in the red zone against the Packers.
Besides their touchdown drives, on four other trips inside the Packers’ 13-yard line, the Saints produced a combined six points.
Here is the damage report inflicted by Packers defenders:
• They stuffed a potential tying touchdown run from the 1-yard line on the final play of the game.
• Late in the third quarter, they halted a Saints’ drive inside the Packers’ 10 with consecutive stops on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1.
• They forced the Saints to settle for a field goal in the second quarter when a drive was halted at the 12 after rare back-to-back Brees incompletions.
• They forced another field goal in the third quarter when Erik Walden sacked Brees on third-and-2 from the Packers’ 7.
• They forced a Marques Colston fumble on the Saints’ second play from scrimmage that led to a 36-yard Packers touchdown drive.
The Packers are far from a finished product on defense, and they know it.
“(We gave up) way too many points and way too many missed tackles, and way too many yards,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “I’m happy with the win, no doubt about it, but that’s not the way we like to perform.”
Last season, the Packers allowed just one opponent to score more than 30 points, and they gave up fewer than 300 yards in eight of 16 regular-season games.
They seem convinced the defense can do better this season. And why not? The ability to produce so many impactful plays against the Saints is a sign of good things to come for the Packers’ defense.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.