I’m still anxious over the Green Bay Packers long list of injuries, particularly on defense, but I have to say I’m also downright giddy over the way the young players on defense have stepped up.
Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions featured a Green Bay defense that was without Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Nick Perry, Sam Shields, D.J. Smith, and Desmond Bishop. Yet that same defense held the NFL’s number one ranked passing offense to 252 passing yards, with a completion rate of 44% and a passer rating of 54.0 for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The Green Bay defense, again without their number one pass rusher, sacked Stafford five times and forced three turnovers, including a pick-six by M.D. Jennings and an absolutely crucial forced fumble by rookie Dezman Moses that prevented the Lions from expanding their three point lead going into halftime.
It’s crazy to think that it was the beleaguered defense full of second-stringers who kept the Packers in the game at Detroit rather than the high-powered offense. Yet when Aaron Rodgers wasn’t clicking with his receivers, and when the running game was going nowhere, it was the Green Bay defense that stepped up big.
It’s a huge credit to general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy’s staff that these backups are able to slide right into the starting lineup with so few hiccups. Rookies like Casey Hayward, Jerron McMillian, and Moses have not only avoided the disaster one might expect with so many rookies on the field, but they have excelled. Hayward is quickly gaining attention for his play and is tied for second in the league with five interceptions on the season.
The way the young defensive players have performed is particularly impressive considering they are playing in a Dom Capers defense. Capers is known for the complexity of his schemes, the variety of packages, and the ability to disguise coverages. Capers also deserves recognition for his preparation of these young guys and his ability to integrate new and inexperienced players into the lineup week in and week out.
The Packers are in the middle of a five-game win streak and, though their wins have not been particularly pretty or dominant, it’s hard not to be excited. The team has found ways to succeed, and now they’re going to begin getting those injured starters back. How much better will this team be when the Claymaker is back causing chaos for opposing lines and Woodson is back jumping routes for interceptions?
As much as anything, the success of the young players has to make the team’s confidence sky-high. Considering the marquee players they have had to make do without, the team must feel like they can handle anything thrown their way. Lose your best run defender before the season even starts? Okay. Lose your number one receiver? No biggie. Lose your starting running back? Oh well. Lose your veteran defensive leader? So what?
Green Bay has not allowed itself to be derailed by ready-made excuses like injuries or having a game nefariously stolen from them. They believe in each other and they believe in themselves, rookies and all.