They are numbers to which Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers is not accustomed.

Seven games into this season, one of the NFL’s best defenses in 2010 is at the bottom of the rankings this year. The Packers are 27th in overall defense. Even worse, they are next-to-last in pass-defense in a pass-happy league.

“I do like the way we’re taking the ball away,” Capers said.

It’s been the saving grace of the Packers defense this season. It leads the league in takeaways that are driven by a league-leading 13 interceptions.

Why are the Packers undefeated? Well, Aaron Rodgers is having a banner year, but the Packers likely wouldn’t be undefeated without those takeaways because most other statistical categories tell a story of disappointment. The Packers defense is:

  • 29th in yards allowed per play. Yeah, big plays have been a big problem.
  • 23rd in first downs allowed per game.
  • 26th in third-down efficiency. Getting off the field on third down was surprisingly difficult against a rookie quarterback making his first start this past Sunday.
  • An impressive fourth in run-defense, but it’s difficult to even feel good about that after having been gashed for 175 yards rushing by Adrian Peterson last Sunday.

So, at the bye week and with the schedule about to stiffen, the question Capers is facing is: Can this year’s defense return to its dominant ways of 2010, when it was fifth overall, fifth against the pass and third in sacks per pass play?

“I don’t know about comparing it to last year, but I do feel we can get better,” Capers said. “We’re not where we want to be. The bye comes at a good time for us on the defense.”

Injuries, some major and some nagging, have been at the root of the Packers’ problems on defense. Defensive end Mike Neal was lost to a knee injury early in the preseason; it’s hoped he’ll return to action following the bye week. Safety Nick Collins was lost for the season with a neck injury in Week 2. Cornerback Tramon Williams missed time with a shoulder injury that has restricted his ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Clay Matthews has battled a quad injury that has cost him practice time each week. Sam Shields missed the game in Minnesota due to a head injury.

The Packers defense needs to get healthy and get better. The second would seem to require the first.

First up after the bye is a trip to San Diego, where quarterback Philip Rivers and the league’s No. 7 pass-offense awaits the Packers. In the second half of the season, the Packers will also face the Giants’ Eli Manning, fourth-ranked with a 101.1 passer rating, and the Lions’ Matt Stafford, sixth at 95.5.

One of Capers’ statistical formulas for success involves passer rating differential. Immediately, that makes Rodgers an ultra-valuable “member” of the defense, in that his league-leading 125.7 passer rating overwhelms the 79.3 to which the Packers defense has limited opposing quarterbacks.

Interceptions have never been more important.

Additional bye week coverage