The Green Bay Packers and their defense are in a rough spot today. Questions are swirling about new defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his ability to put players in position to make plays. The unit gave up four TD passes to Brett Favre in his return to Lambeau Field on Sunday, and the Pack is sitting at 4-3.
People on the outside might see signs of panic, dissention and a team that looks on the verge of falling apart.
On Sunday, following the loss to Minnesota, DE Cullen Jenkins spoke up in the locker room, saying the defense was “handcuffed” by Capers’ scheme, and when players talk, people listen.
But I can tell you from my experience that immediately after a loss -- and that was a big loss for the Packers in terms of the Favre drama and, more important, the NFC North race -- emotions can get the best of you. As a player, you try to come up with the proper cliché that will float well in the morning papers or postgame blogs, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself.
The words come out, and the media is there waiting and ready to attack because, well, that’s their job.
But in an e-mail sent to the National Football Post yesterday by Packers cornerback Al Harris, the players are painting a different picture now.
“Look, not every family is perfect, and most are dysfunctional at times,” Harris wrote. “You might be seeing a little of that right now, however, we are family, we have to stick together and I and my teammates will support Dom, his system and all our coaches. We are all players and coaches in this fight together and have to share responsibility and blame. We are at war and will fight for each other. That’s how it’s going to be for the rest of this season.”
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise because most teams in this league are resilient in that they seem to thrive off certain types of adversity. Personally, I think adversity of any kind is good for NFL teams. It brings them back down to earth, forces them to do more self-scouting and pushes them in the right direction. You evaluate the entire team and make the necessary changes. Good teams respond in these situations. And, right now, the Packers are stuck in the middle of some major adversity. Would the story be different if the Packers had found a way to extend that second half run? Of course it would, but that’s life in the NFL.
Winning always seems to cover up any issues, but losing — especially in a big game — without a doubt exposes all those issues, concerns and discomfort that exist in the locker room, the meeting rooms and on the field on Sundays.
Are we jumping ahead of ourselves and putting too much stock into a ballgame, one of 16 that the Packers play this season? And would it have been different if this was a loss to the Bengals, or any other NFC team besides the Vikings?
Most likely, but at this point in the season, it’s hard not to notice how much better this defense is playing under Capers compared with the downfall of 2008 — the reason Mike McCarthy went out and hired in Capers in the first place.
Here are the Packers’ 2009 numbers through seven games compared with their final defensive stats from last season:
Total Defense: 4th (283.4) Total Defense: 20th (334.3)
Rush Defense: 9th (99.4) Rush Defense: 26th (131.6)
Pass Defense: 9th (184.0) Pass Defense: 12th (202.8)
Points Allowed: 9th (19.1) Points Allowed: 22nd (23.8)
An improvement? Of course, and we have to believe that the emotion behind this loss is the main culprit for the questions being thrown at both Capers and the players right now — because when your defense is ranked fourth, that scheme and personnel are getting some work done.
But I also understand that these new schemes take time. When Gregg Williams was hired in Washington by head coach Joe Gibbs, the results weren’t there immediately. But as the season progressed, the defense became the leading factor for that ball club – and for years beyond. It’s no different in Green Bay, so I can see why players and coaches can become frustrated, especially after another loss to Favre.
Sure, we can sit here and say the Packers as a team are at a crossroads, with the NFC North title most likely out of reach. But that doesn’t discount that this club, especially the defense, has the talent and the numbers to prove it can put together a run — a run that can get them into the postseason.
Losing highlights flaws, but a win this week and we’ll be telling a different story.
Check out the new Packers team page at the NFP — where the fans get to voice their opinions.
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