What a difference a year makes. In last season’s wild card game at Arizona, the Packers’ pass defense looked like one big cluster fuck. Receivers were running free all day and coordinator Dom Capers had no answers. And on the rare occasions when the players were lined up and carrying out their responsibilities correctly, they were getting physically whipped – either with quickness or size – by Early Doucet, Steve Breaston and Larry Fitzgerald. Now flash forward to Sunday’s wild card game at Philadelphia, where the defense resembled a well-oiled machine. Look, any offense with Mike Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin is going to make some plays, but the league’s second-highest scoring team was held to 16 points. And most importantly, with the season on the line, the defense stepped up and saved the day.
There’s no question Vick’s final decision of the season was a really poor one. There was too much time left to force a pass into the end zone – especially on first down. But give Green Bay’s defense a lot of credit. Unlike last year’s debacle in the desert, this time all 11 players were in perfect position and doing exactly what they were taught to do. And just as importantly, they were physically up to the challenge. Take a look:
There’s not much pressure, but the containment is excellent. That’s what Capers preached to his players all week. B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Erik Walden and C.J. Wilson are showing great discipline by staying in their lanes and A.J. Hawk is approaching the line of scrimmage just in case Vick wants to run up the middle. Once McCoy eschews blocking to become a receiver, Hawk passes him off to Charles Woodson. That’s good fundamental football. If Hawk decides to chase McCoy, the middle becomes wide open and Vick probably scrambles for 15 yards. Jason Avant, who Woodson had been covering in the slot, is now turned over to Charlie Peprah. All the while, Riley Cooper, Jackson and Maclin are being blanketed by Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Desmond Bishop/Nick Collins respectively.
That final defensive play is a thing of beauty and a clear indication of just how far this defense has come in its second season under the tutelage of Capers. And while things don’t always go quite this smoothly or work out quite this well, there’s a reason opposing quarterbacks compiled a league-low 67.2 passer rating against the Packers. Even with all the key injuries, Capers has put his players in position to succeed, and more often than not, they have. That’s what happens when a great scheme is carried out by a bunch of very talented players who are far more comfortable than they were a year ago.