Defense looks to get back on track in Buffalo
There's no better example in Dom Capers' mind of how quickly the tide can turn in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers' encounter with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night.
When Capers exited his press-box perch at halftime, the defensive coordinator was feeling good about the team's 24-point lead and his defense's early containment of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was held to a 44.4 passer rating in the first two quarters.
When Capers returned from the locker room, the momentum snowballed in the Falcons' favor. The offense came out of the break in stride with Ryan hitting receiver Julio Jones on a 79-yard completion off a double-move. Just like that, Atlanta was off and running.
Thirty points and 304 total yards later, the Packers needed to successfully execute a 4-minute offensive series to put away a 43-37 victory over the Falcons for their ninth win in the past 10 games.
Capers, discussing the game for the first time Thursday, offered a 532-word opening thesis on what exactly went wrong and where the NFL's 26th-ranked defense stands heading into Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.
"The challenge is we have to get back on track," Capers said. "I feel like obviously that was our poorest half since the bye week. But I feel like we can. They're very correctable errors and you have to find a way to make plays.
"I like the way we started that first series, we forced them to punt a couple times, we got the takeaway. I certainly didn't like the way we played in the second half."
The Falcons were dangerous since they had nothing to lose. Atlanta used four-down football to claw itself back from the 31-7 halftime deficit, shooting Ryan's passer rating up 72 points and Jones' receiving yards to a record 259 against Green Bay.
Why didn't the Packers try to double-team Jones more to take him out of the equation? Capers said they did, but the execution wasn't where it needed to be. The only matchup that seemed to work on Jones came early in the fourth quarter when Davon House replaced Sam Shields.
When asked what prompted the switch, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said: "Trying to win a football game. That's all that is. Every decision we make, we're trying to win the football game."
Whitt is the first to say his group didn't play up to its potential against Atlanta, but he knows what his cornerbacks are capable of against "stud receivers." Before Sunday, the Packers' secondary had conceded only one 100-yard performance to one of the league's elite (Chicago's Brandon Marshall).
It still was enough to drop the Packers' passing defense down nine spots to 20th. The task won't get much easier in the coming weeks with Buffalo's Sammy Watkins, Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, and Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.
"That's what this league is about," Whitt said. "We've done pretty well all year with those stud-type receivers. We did poorly this past game, but if you look at the rest of the year, I don't think you'll find one, another guy who's had 100 yards. That's it. I'm not going to let a half of football deter what we're trying to do. That's make sure we put a winning product out there."
The defense has three more chances to show it's better than what the statistics say. Veterans like Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews say the potential is there to amass a championship-caliber unit.
The defense proved that in the first four games out of the bye week before Monday's relapse. Needing an answer, coaches and players alike point to Buffalo as an opportunity for a turnaround.
"It's a great example in the NFL, I don't care what the score is, you still have to stay on top of your game and you have to be sharp," Capers said. "We just weren't sharp in a lot of little things and again Ryan got a hot hand. He's a veteran quarterback. He has the ability to do that. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the league. You know you've got to bring your A-game when you're going against him and we didn't play that way in the second half. It was kind of a tale of two halves."
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