On the scoreboard, defense adding up for Capers
Dom Capers tries to keep everything in context when the stat packet is distributed to the Green Bay Packers' coaching offices each week.
Some of the information the 64-year-old defensive coordinator takes with a grain of salt given how easy it is to make too much of both the good and the bad, but there's one statistic that's always risen above the rest for Capers.
For good reason, too. NFL wins and losses ultimately are determined by which team outscores the other. Through the ups and downs of Capers' six years in Green Bay, that's one area in which the Packers have performed exceedingly well.
The Packers sit 22nd in total defense (371.8 yards per game) through five games because of a stark contrast between the league's last-ranked run defense (163.0 ypg) and the sixth-ranked pass defense (208.8 ypg).
The overriding measurable in Capers' mind is the 21.2 points his defense is allowing, which is tied for ninth fewest in the NFL. A lot of that has a lot to do with the 11.3-point average the Packers have allowed over their last three games.
If you can produce consistently at that level, the rest is elementary in Capers' opinion. When you hold an offense to fewer than two touchdowns, there's a decent chance you're going to win when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback.
"You know our Number 1 goal is to give up as few as points as possible, and I do like the trend of our defense," Capers said Monday. "I think our opponent quarterback rating is about 70 right now, which I think is second in the league, and I've always felt when you have a quarterback like A-Rod, who has a 110 quarterback rating, if your opponent quarterback rating is 70, it's going to give you a good chance to win a lot of football games."
The defense preyed on an overmatched Christian Ponder in Thursday's 42-10 win over Minnesota. After holding Chicago scoreless in the second half of a 38-17 win on Sunday, the Packers' defense shut the Vikings down on 11 possessions through the first three quarters.
That was a scoreless stretch of 78 minutes, 56 seconds spanning the two games, which included five turnovers. Second-quarter interceptions from Julius Peppers and Jamari Lattimore has the defense tied for second in the NFL with seven. The Packers need only four more to tie last year's mark.
Capers credited the defense's 16 quarterback hits on Ponder to consistency with the defense's four-man rush. He would have liked to see his unit clamp down in the fourth quarter when the Vikings generated 10 points in garbage time, but otherwise didn't have many complaints.
"You know there are still some things we can clean up, obviously," defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. "You know the scoreboard was zero, and then they started getting some yards and they scored a couple times, so we've just got to continue to stay the course, and when we come out hard, just have to finish the game that way."
The Packers know they aren't always going to be able to feast off teams' backups, though. They'll need to survive Cam Newton and Drew Brees prior to next month's bye week.
However, there's definite optimism the secondary's strong start will hold. The presence of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde has allowed the safety position to close the gap on a perennially deep cornerbacks spot.
They have helped veteran Morgan Burnett rediscover his game. The 25-year-old safety had one of his best performances in a Packers uniform with 11 tackles, including on back-to-back plays in the first quarter to prevent first downs, and a forced fumble.
"We've taken a really positive step at that position," Capers said. "I think that it's an ascending position for us. Obviously, we've seen a lot of Morgan. Morgan has been here for a while. I think Morgan played his best football game and hopefully we can see him carry that momentum into this Miami game."
The signing of Julius Peppers has given the Packers the playmaker they've sorely lacked across from Clay Matthews, but stopping the run remains paramount.
Thursday was a step in the right direction. After giving up 235 yards to Chicago, the Packers held the combination of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon to a reasonable 96 yards on 22 carries (4.4 yards per carry).
One change the Packers made against the Vikings was turning strictly to their traditional 3-4 package on running downs in lieu of the new quad formation. Capers said specific looks would vary week to week based on matchups.
It all comes back to limiting points and production.
"I don't think we've really scratched the surface of where we can go as a defense," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "Points are always key for us. With the offense we have, if we can keep the points down to 17 or under — we want them under 10 — we know we're going to have a great chance of winning. Our percentage of winning goes way up. When you get the ball back to a guy like A-Rod on our offense, you have to be able to do that. I think we've done a decent job of that, too."
Regardless of what the stats read, coaches and players feel the defense that surfaced against the Vikings is the real Packers' defense — not the unit that gave up 36 points in the opener against Seattle or the one that conceded nearly 500 total yards against the Bears.
So has the defense discovered its identity? Are turnovers or better personnel settling into the Packers' remodeled defense to thank for the turnaround?
Capers will leave those questions to the critics. Meanwhile, he's hoping the defense is building toward a season like the Super Bowl squad in 2010 that allowed only 15 points per game.
Accomplish that and the rest will take care of itself.
"Things change from one week to the next," said Capers when if his defense has discovered its identity. "I think that we've improved, I like what I see out of the last three games, starting with the scoring defense. … I like the fact that we've been taking the ball over, we've been creating field position. I think we've been able to disrupt the opposing quarterback, and that's our game."
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Scoring defense by year
2014: 9th (21.1)
2013: 24th (26.8)
2012: 11th (21)
2011: 19th (22.4)
2010: 2nd (15.0)
2009: 7th (18.6)