Mike McCarthy said this past week that he was tired of answering questions about last year’s defense. So were his players.
“We can’t change anything from that,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We’re just trying to create a new identity for this 2012 team.”
If that identity is the pass-rushing, ball-hawking defense that practically embarrassed the Bears on Thursday night at Lambeau Field, the questions about last year will soon cease.
After a shaky showing in the opener, the defense was the story in a 23-10 victory over Chicago, with hardly a statistic that doesn’t jump off the page.
The Packers sacked Jay Cutler seven times and picked him off four times. The Bears compiled just 11 first downs and 168 total yards. That’s fewer yards than the Packers allowed in any game during the Super Bowl season of 2010. It’s the fewest since Week 7 of 2009 at Cleveland (139 yards).
“Definitely proud of the unit,” said cornerback Tramon Williams, who had his second career two-interception game. “Those guys up front came to play, and made our job on the back end easy.”
The main guy up front was Clay Matthews, who was credited with 3½ sacks, though it could easily be argued he had four by himself. While his teammates were singing his praises – “Clay is always a monster,” Raji said – Matthews was crediting the secondary for some coverage sacks and his fellow rushers for their contributions.
“We’ve got some talent now,” said Matthews, who has six sacks in two games, matching his two-game start to 2010 and his total for all of 2011. “It’s going to be hard to double one guy and leave others single blocked. If that’s the case, so be it, but we’ve got some talent now getting after the quarterback and, hopefully, that’s here to stay.”
Rookie linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels each notched a sack, and linebacker Erik Walden split one with Matthews. Inside linebacker D.J. Smith sacked Cutler on a blitz on Chicago’s very first snap of the game, and that set a tone for the rest of the night.
“They had no answers for our guys up front,” Charles Woodson said. “They were in the backfield constantly. It started early, and that makes it tough on any quarterback.”
Whether he got frustrated, impatient, desperate, or a combination of all three, Cutler then took risks that didn’t pay off. In addition to Williams’ two interceptions, Woodson snagged one and rookie safety Jerron McMillian had one, as well.
Cutler had challenged the Green Bay secondary during the week, wishing them “good luck” with playing press coverage against Chicago’s big receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Packers mixed up their coverages and held the duo to just three meaningless catches for 31 yards. On Marshall's lone chance for a big play, Williams fell down but Marshall had Cutler's deep pass bounce off his hands in the back corner of the end zone.
“I don’t know if we took it personal,” Woodson said of Cutler's earlier remarks. “We thought it was kind of funny that all of a sudden they’re the team to beat because he got a couple of new guys.”
The Packers can certainly laugh at catching more passes from Cutler than did his two “new toys,” as Williams called them. Cutler posted an abysmal 28.2 passer rating, completing just 11 of 27 passes for 126 yards with one TD.
The defensive effort was the result of the rush and the coverage working together, which is how defenses stymie teams and generate turnovers. On a night the offense wasn’t at its best, the Packers’ interceptions set up 10 of the 23 points.
“It’s always good when you get after the quarterback, get him off his rhythm and have him throw some balls up there that I’m sure he wouldn’t want, or wants back,” Matthews said.
Added Williams: “That’s what happened tonight. We put the pressure that we needed, and everything worked together. We were as in sync as a defense as we were trying to get for a long time. It finally clicked.”
Despite the rough start last week, Woodson was encouraged that it would click for this unit. He was cautiously optimistic. A veteran who knows how quickly things can change in this game, he was taking the same thoughtful, measured view of the latest results.
“I don’t want to put too much on tonight, because you have to be consistent in this league, and tonight was good, but we’re going to have to do it for a lot more games, for the long haul,” Woodson said. “Is this the type of performance that I would love for us to continue to have? Yeah, but it’s one game. Though it feels good, it’s still one game.” Additional game coverage - Packers vs. Bears