Packers 3-4 ‘D’ passes first test
GREEN BAY A year ago, it was the situation that made Packers fans brace for the worst: Late in the fourth quarter, game on the line, and the Green Bay defense needing a stop.
While the cast of characters hasn’t changed much on paper, the 2009 Packers defense is very much a different bunch under new coordinator Dom Capers. Instead of squandering a late lead Sunday night against the Bears, the Packers literally seized victory with an interception.
“We knew we had to finish the game,” nickel cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We knew in all the close games last year, we didn’t get them, we lost about seven games like that. I felt good about this game.”
The Packers unleashed their new 3-4 defensive scheme for real against Chicago, getting the best of new quarterback Jay Cutler in Green Bay’s 21-15 victory.
Given four interceptions and plenty of other big plays to sort through, Packers coach Mike McCarthy singled out defensive lineman Johnny Jolly’s nimble interception of an attempted screen pass that might have saved a touchdown in the second quarter.
“I don’t know how many other defensive linemen can make that play,” McCarthy said.
“It’s a great play by Johnny there in a crucial time to keep points off the board.”
Jolly’s interception wasn’t a happy accident: Popping up out of his stance to defend the screen was his assignment on that play, an example of the element of surprise inherent in the 3-4.
“He’s going to want to go do interception drills now,” Capers said, laughing. “Every time I get a lineman get an interception, that’s all they want to do.”
Capers’ crew stopped the run first Sunday, then threw pass-rush pressure at Cutler from all over the field. The Bears’ offensive line couldn’t handle it and Cutler, according to the Packers, did the rest.
“He’s a gunslinger, and he has a gunslinger’s mentality,” Williams said. “He came out, and we knew he was going to throw the ball up to us. We were just ready and prepared for it.”
In all, it was a ringing early endorsement of the Packers’ decision to switch to Capers’ version of the 3-4 after McCarthy fired most of his defensive coaching staff in the offseason.
The 3-4 is gaining popularity, with Green Bay, Kansas City and Denver making the switch this season. At least a dozen NFL teams will use elements of the 3-4 in their defense this year.
The Packers like it because it’s less predictable from a pass rush perspective. Predictability was perhaps the biggest criticism of Green Bay’s previous
Running a 3-4 also allows the Packers to keep more linebackers on their roster — something that also helps special teams, another area of concern last season that appeared to improve Sunday.
“I’ve never had an issue with the effort of our football team,” McCarthy said. “I think they have always played with great effort. But now playing with this pace and this tempo and now to stack some confidence on it, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Of all the colorful language used to describe the defense last year, it’s safe to say that the word “swagger” wasn’t heard very often.
But after throwing a go-ahead 50-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings with 1:11 left Sunday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers went out of his way to acknowledge the defense.
“This team has a swagger, a confidence about themselves,” Rodgers said. “Our defense played incredible tonight. They came up with big plays and kept us in the game.”
On the injury front, McCarthy said safety Atari Bibgy was being evaluated for a potential knee sprain and his availability for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati was unclear. Aaron Rouse would likely start in Bigby’s place.
McCarthy also said right tackle Allen Barbre will start Sunday’s game against Cincinnati despite struggling against Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, but insisted that the entire offensive line “needs to improve from today to Sunday.”