If the Green Bay Packers defense continues to grow and gets the reinforcements itís expecting, the prospects for the postseason couldnít be more boundless.
Itís conceivable that a defense that was the worst in the league last year and couldnít match up against anyone could present match-up problems for any upcoming opponent in the playoffs if Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and C.J. Wilson get healthy and return to form.
That came to light as the Packersí shorthanded defense started adapting and making plays after a miserable start against the Detroit Lions Sunday night.
The Packersí early problems against the Lionsí running game were twofold. One, there were only four defensive linemen in uniform and that forced them to play nickel even when the Lions lined up with an extra tackle and tight end. Two, the play of outside linebackers Frank Zombo, Dezman Moses and Erik Walden was terrible in the early going.
The return of Wilson and maybe Mike Neal would take care of issue No. 1. The return of Matthews would immediately fix No. 2.
Whatís more the return of Sam Shields after a six-game absence bolstered the secondary. Yet the player he put on the bench, Davon House, probably would start for the Lions and a lot of other teams; and soon that unit should get even deeper with the return of Woodson.
Then to top it off the biggest play of the game was made by rookie defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who continues to play a bigger role and now could maybe benefit from playing a more defined role once Wilson comes back.
If the Packers are at full strength say against Seattle with Marshawn Lynch or Houston with Arian Foster, theyíll be able to counter with three big bodies up front. If they have to play an explosive passing team, theyíll be five deep at cornerback and four deep at safety if you count Woodson in both categories.
The late Fritz Shurmur was part mad scientist when he ran the Packersí defense in the 1990s. If Dom Capers has that same bent to him, one could envision him playing, in certain situations, a 4-7 or even a 3-8 package with five corners on the field against maybe an Atlanta or New England or Denver.
Once again, Calvin Johnson padded his stats against the Packers, and, once again, Tramon Williams prevented him from making a game-changing play. Williams gives up six inches in that matchup, but his vertical leap makes up for some of that and his ability to play the ball helps as well.
House missed a tackle early on a 13-yard run by Joique Bell and should have played the 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Scheffler more aggressively. House needs to see that pick coming and get his hands on the receiver at the snap of the ball.
Woodson figures to replace M.D. Jennings, but there also are things he does better in the slot than Casey Hayward.
One, Woodson does a better job of timing the blitz. Two, he has more savvy than Hayward on running plays. When a pulling lineman comes out, Woodson knows where to be. He knows he canít be too deep and that he has to take on that blocker low and create a pile-up. Hayward isnít there yet. He takes on blockers too deep.
In the first half, when the Packers allowed 117 yards rushing, Moses and Zombo were awful, and Waldenís play was inconsistent.
Zombo was cut down by Matthew Stafford on a wide receiver reverse and then sucked in on Staffordís 4-yard keeper for a touchdown. How unathletic is that to get cut by a quarterback?
Moses isnít physical against the run and gets his shoulders turned. He even gets reach-blocked by tight ends. That means heís lining up on a tight endís outside shoulder, and the tight end is getting to his outside shoulder.
Week after week, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji do their job as consistently well as anyone on defense.
Daniels might be short and might lack the up-field speed of Jerel Worthy, but he has more junk in his trunk than Worthy. Danielsí squatty build gives him more power in his lower body.
But his best asset is his hands and thatís unusual for a rookie. His hands never stop and thatís how a D-lineman gets late sacks. On his fumble recovery, Daniels kept separation and his guy eventually let him go. Daniels kept using his hands, kept his feet moving and when he saw the ball he went after it.
Early in the year, Green was impatient, didnít set up blocks, didnít look like a first-down back. Heíd get the ball and was ready to go 100 miles an hour. But heís getting better and two plays, in particular, showed that.
With 11:44 to go in the first half, he gained 12 yards. He headed inside, slowed down, used his eyes and bounced it outside. Earlier in the year, he maybe doesnít make that play. He might have followed D.J. Williams, the up-back, through the hole.
In the third quarter, with 7:26 to go, Green ran a power-play for 11 yards. The blocking was good, but Green helped set it up. He didnít just grab the ball and run to the hole. Instead, he stepped toward the middle, which allowed the linemen to get better angles, and then he bent it and followed the pulling guard around the corner. His first two steps drew the backers in, drew the linemen in. That made it an easier block for Williams, the tight end, and helped Evan Dietrich-Smith get a better angle on the scraping linebacker.
Green also is doing a better job of running with his pads out over his toes. Now, heís delivering blows instead of getting blown up.
DuJuan Harrisí 14-yard touchdown was blocked perfectly. He was untouched. But he also showed some quickness and vision on his seven carries.
The slippery track helped in pass protection. On a field like that the advantage is with the offensive line. But the line also did a good job at the point of attack in the running game, especially on the right side with Don Barclay and Josh Sitton. But three times, Barclay had trouble with a tackle-end twist in pass protection. Thatís something that will have to be cleaned up.
Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.