Posted January 10, 2013 on AP on Fox
The Green Bay Packers could have filled an entire highlight reel with their interceptions last year. Good thing, because the rest of their defense wasn't worth watching. A year after finishing with the NFL's worst defense, the Packers have traded the excitement of those big turnovers for consistency. And the change could be the difference between another early exit from the playoffs and a deep run that could last all the way to the Super Bowl. ''I'd prefer our defense this year to last year's,'' defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. The Packers (12-5) play at San Francisco (11-4-1) on Saturday night in an NFC divisional game. Green Bay rolled through the regular season in 2011 with a defense every bit as explosive as its high-powered offense. The Packers led the league with 31 interceptions, and no quarterback - rookie or veteran - was safe from their sticky hands. Four of the picks were returned for touchdowns. Even as the Packers cruised to a 15-1 record and the NFC's No. 1 seed, however, there were signs of trouble with the defense. Green Bay ranked dead last in the NFL in both yardage (almost 412 per game) and yards passing (almost 300). Their 6,585 yards allowed was the worst in team history, as were the pass attempts (637), completions (390) and yards passing (4,796). And all those flaws were exposed when Green Bay played the New York Giants in the divisional round. Eli Manning threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and Hakeem Nicks had seven catches for 165 yards as the Giants tossed the defending Super Bowl champions out of the playoffs with a 37-20 win. The Packers don't have nearly as many takeaways this time - they finished the regular season with 18 - but they're no longer pushovers, either. They jumped to 11th in total defense, and their average of 337 yards allowed per game is a 75-yard improvement. Opponents passed for an average of 218 yards against Green Bay, also 11th best in the NFL. They ranked in the top half of the NFC in every defensive category except run defense. And you can thank Adrian Peterson for that. ''I don't know what the answer is,'' B.J. Raji said. ''I just know we left last year in the past and took the approach that this is a different year and we wanted to improve our ranking.'' The Packers have done all this despite losing Charles Woodson for half the season with a broken right collarbone. Clay Matthews (hamstring) and C.J. Wilson (knee) also missed four games each. But the injuries also forced Green Bay to play its young guys, and their speed and athleticism has turned out to be a boon for the Packers. ''We're just a more consistent, more multiple defense this year,'' Capers said. ''I think we can attack you in different ways. I think we've got more athletic ability on our defense this year than we had. I think these young guys have given us more athletic ability, more speed, more pass rush ability. ''You look at our sack numbers in terms of from last year to this year, there's a big difference,'' Capers added. ''And our style of play, we need to do that.'' Only Denver and St. Louis (52 each) and Cincinnati (51) had more sacks than Green Bay (47), and it's a good bet the Packers would have led the league had Matthews not been hurt. Even with missing four games, Matthews finished with 13 sacks, a half-sack off his career high. Only the 49ers' Aldon Smith had more in the NFC. ''They're just playing good defense,'' San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. ''Sound defense, good team defense, not allowing the big plays that showed up last year.'' Now, just because this Green Bay defense is sound doesn't mean it's stodgy or boring. Quite the contrary. Rookie Casey Hayward tied for fifth in the NFL with six interceptions. Jay Cutler is no doubt thrilled he's got at least seven months before he has to see a Packers defensive back. But substance matters as much as style, and Green Bay has it this year. ''No doubt about it,'' cornerback Tramon Williams said. ''I'm pretty sure that's not hard to see that we're a better defense from last year.'' Notes: WR Randall Cobb returned to practice Thursday despite still feeling under the weather. ''He's going to go,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ''I don't have any questions about that.'' ... McCarthy described the Packers' last practice before they leave for San Francisco as ''very spirited, to say the least. They have too much energy and I think that's common for this time of year,'' he said. ''I feel very good the way the last three days of practice have gone.'' ... The Packers aren't concerned with the state of Candlestick Park, where the field is dry and patchy in some spots, soggy in others. ''A lot of the grass fields are that way toward the end of the season. It'll be the same for everyone,'' Jordy Nelson said. ''You just have to feel it out. In pregame, make sure you have the right cleats on, what you feel comfortable in.'' ... WR Jarrett Boykin (ankle) is improving but won't be ready to play this week. --- Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
AROUND THE WEB
RELATED ARTICLES

Packers cheerleaders: From Lombardi to today

Mary Jane van Duyse Sorgel didn't know a star was born on a chilly November afternoon at Wrigley Field as she performed at halftime of the Green Bay Packers' 1959 game against the Chicago Bears. The blond-haired, gold-costumed dynamo was the head majorette for the Green Bay Packer Band, focused on twirling her baton that day to the delight of more than 46,000 fans. She had...

Experience gap wide between Rodgers, Kaepernick

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers knows the Packers aren't going to advance to the NFC Championship Game without him performing at the elite level he's capable of. That's fine by him. In fact, the star quarterback and league's reigning Most Valuable Player embraces that role. "Guys are counting on me to play well," Rodgers said this week. "I take that...

James Starks Questionable For Saturday

Green Bay halfback James Starks is questionable for Saturday's game in San Francisco. Starks has missed the Packers' last five games with a knee bruise.Fantasy Spin:DuJuan Harris has been getting most of the reps at halfback in Starks' absence. We don't think either player will be a factor Saturday against the 49ers' fourth-ranked run defense.

Rodgers back in Bay Area with Packers for playoffs

The anxiety-filled green room and draft day seem so long ago now to Aaron Rodgers. Still, on this weekend, any lingering feelings of frustration about how far he dropped will be directed right at the team that passed him up with the No. 1 pick nearly eight years ago. Rodgers brings the high-scoring Green Bay Packers (12-5) to Candlestick Park on Saturday to face No. 2 seed San...

49ers vs. Packers: The playoff 'X' factors

They had little or no impact back in September during the 49ers’ 30-22 win over the Green Bay Packers in the season opener at Lambeau Field. But it could be quite different this time around for several players on both rosters who are now playing larger roles for their teams. Here’s a look at the ‘X’ factors who could make a difference when the teams meet again in Saturday’s...

Defense Gains Without Takeaways

The Packers' defense made leaps-and-bounds improvements after setting records (good and bad) in 2011. They did it even while missing Charles Woodson, Clay Matthews and C.J. Wilson for large chunks of the season.

Packers aim to match 49ers' physicality

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The physicality of the San Francisco 49ers cannot be questioned. With a defense that ranked second this season in points allowed and third in yards allowed, the 49ers have one of the NFL's elite groups. The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, are getting plenty of those questions leading into Saturday night's divisional round playoff game. It's been...

Green Bay's new and improved OL gets biggest test

(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.) By NANCY ARMOUR AP National Writer Milk bottles in carnival games are meant to be knocked down. MVP quarterbacks are not. Green Bay's offensive line has had its hands full this season as it has tried, often unsuccessfully, to keep Aaron Rodgers from looking like a tackling dummy, and it doesn't figure to get any easier in Saturday night&...

Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers: In the End, It All Comes Down to Aaron Rodgers

There is no shortage of hype surrounding Saturday Night's NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. The breakdowns and the analysis of this game seems never ending. Yet the only analysis you need is this - if the Packers are to escape with a win, it will be because Aaron Rodgers is special. Period. End of discussion...

Chick Fight: Packers vs Niners

We’ve hit the sweet spot of the NFL playoffs. The divisional round separates the Super Bowl contenders from the pretenders. It’s where heartbreak happens, where legends are made and where players and fans with chips on their shoulders finally get a shot to prove the naysayers wrong. This week’s Chick Fight features fans of two teams that are no stranger to this stage of...

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, Divisional Playoff Preview

Photo Credit: 49ers This could very well be one of the finer divisional weekends in NFL history depending on how the NFC matchups end up, and this game tops them all. San Francisco and Green Bay are two of the more prestigious franchises in the NFL, and they have had several thrilling finishes in the postseason. One that comes to mind would be the game where Jerry Rice fumbled and...
Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.