Packers defense back on track after rough start

September 16, 2014

 
    

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers believe the Green Bay Packers defense is headed in the right direction, and not just because there was no other way to go after its struggles against the defending Super Bowl champions in the season opener.

The unit gave up 398 yards - including 207 on the ground - to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL kickoff game, then helped put the Packers in an 18-point hole in Sunday's 31-24 come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets at Lambeau Field by surrendering touchdowns on the first three series.

But after allowing 180 yards and 21 points on those first three drives, the Packers defense gave up only 132 yards and three points on the Jets' remaining nine possessions, allowing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense to chip away at the deficit and deliver the team's biggest comeback with Rodgers at quarterback. Rodgers took over as the team's starter in 2008 from Brett Favre, who never had a comeback victory like Sunday's during his 16 years as the Packers' starting quarterback.

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis.

But the comeback Sunday was set up by the defense, which tackled better than it had against the Seahawks and got its first takeaway of the season, a tide-turning interception from veteran cornerback Tramon Williams late in the first half. The Jets' final nine possessions ended in five punts, Williams' interception, one field goal, the first-half gun and a fourth-down failure that allowed the Packers to close out the game in the victory formation.

"After the first three series I thought it was one of our better defensive games," said Capers, whom McCarthy hired in 2009. "I think there were some very positive things from this game we can take and build on. Obviously, our goal is to be able to start the way we finished the game. To be able to get to where we want to go, we have to be able to play a whole game like that. That will be the challenge."

In fact, McCarthy didn't even think his defense played that poorly early on, as the Jets' first touchdown came after Rodgers and center Corey Linsley botched the exchange on the first snap of the game and the Jets recovered at the Green Bay 16-yard line. The defense even had the Jets facing third-and-11 after the turnover but allowed quarterback Geno Smith to pick up the first down with a 13-yard completion.

"If you look at the first couple of series, we had some plays we definitely won on," said McCarthy, whose team now faces a three-game stretch against NFC North opponents, starting with a game at Detroit next Sunday. "I just thought our defense, we didn't probably start as fast as you like, but I thought as the game went on they got stronger. I think you have to give the Jets credit for the plays they made early, and our guys stayed after it. I felt from the second quarter on, they were in control of the game."

The Packers certainly controlled two things they struggled with against the Seahawks. After missing an alarming 18 tackles against the Seahawks, the Packers were charged with only three tackles by unofficial count on Sunday.

"We made a tremendous improvement. We cut it by more than 50 percent," Capers said of the missed tackles. "I think we're heading in the right direction there. I thought the mental aspect of the game in terms of mental errors and missed tackles, we were improved."

And, after allowing the Seahawks to run for 207 yards - and after the Jets ran for 212 yards in their season-opening victory over Oakland - the Packers held Jets running backs Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson to a combined 25 carries for 64 yards (2.6-yard average). The Jets finished with 37 carries for 146 yards (3.9-yard average) but that number included a 39-yard gain on a read-option play that set up the Jets' second touchdown.

"Coming out of the Seattle game, we talked a lot about how we had to improve stopping the run," Capers said. "When you look at the statistics with Ivory and Johnson, they're really what you want collectively."

NOTES: Safety Micah Hyde's knee injury is not believed to be serious. He termed it a "bruise." The news on second-year outside linebacker Andy Mulumba was not as encouraging. McCarthy said Mulumba suffered a "significant injury" and that the medical staff was waiting for further test results to confirm the initial diagnosis. "It didn't look good during the game and it doesn't sound very good," McCarthy said. . McCarthy was pleased with the play of inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore, who started for an injured Brad Jones (quadriceps).