For one night, at least, the defense looked like it was back in form.
Much maligned through the first half of the season and ranking near the bottom of the league in total yards, passing yards and third downs, the Packers defense throttled the Vikings in a 45-7 romp at Lambeau Field on Monday night.
Green Bay allowed just 14 first downs and 266 yards, their second-lowest totals in both categories in 2011. The Vikings were just 5-of-14 on third-down conversions and scored only when given a short field following a Packers fumble on a punt return.
“We owed it to ourselves to play a game like that,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We owed it to our fans, our team and especially our offense, who’s been playing out of their minds this year. We needed a game like that. But it’s still one game.”
Woodson, who after last week’s game in San Diego called for the Packers to get more “creative” on defense, said he talked briefly during the week with Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers to share his thoughts. Woodson didn’t go so far as to say he dictated the game plan, but he felt his thoughts were well-received by Capers and he appreciated the aggressive, blitz-oriented scheme Capers dialed up for Minnesota rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
“That’s the kind of guys we have on this team – aggressive guys, guys that like to play that style of football,” Woodson said. “When he calls it that way, you see the fun guys have on the field, and we had a great deal of fun tonight.”
Ponder was sacked three times and was under duress most of the evening. Clay Matthews sacked him twice, raising his season total to five and recording his first two-sack performance since the Atlanta playoff game last January.
“I think we’ve known we could play at this level, it’s just a matter of getting it done,” Matthews said. “We have the same players, same coaching staff, defensive scheme. It’s just a matter of putting it all together, and that’s exactly what we did tonight.”
The key was controlling Minnesota’s running game and getting the Vikings in third-and-long. Only three of Adrian Peterson’s 14 carries went for more than six yards, and he finished with just 51 yards. The Vikings also had nine or more yards to go on third down eight times, including their last five in a row on the night.
That allowed Capers to turn more blitzers free, and the Packers were seemingly coming from everywhere, keeping Ponder guessing.
“Dom can do that, as opposed to it being third-and-3,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “He doesn’t know what to call at that point, because they can do anything. But when it’s third-and-9, 10 and 11, it’s going to be tough for an offense to move the ball on us.”
Ponder finished just 16 of 34 for 190 yards with one interception and a 52.3 passer rating. Cornerback Tramon Williams got the interception on an ill-advised flea-flicker, while Desmond Bishop also had a sack and is tied with Matthews for the team lead with five.
The only time this season the Packers gave up fewer yards was in Atlanta in Week 5, when the Falcons gained just 251 and were shut out over the final 42 minutes.
The Packers would like to make games like that one and Monday night’s more the rule than the exception, of course, but the fact remains that in nine games the Packers have held their opponent under 380 yards just three times, so the defense wasn’t about to say it has proven itself once and for all.
But it’s safe to say things are “trending in the right direction,” according to linebacker A.J. Hawk.
“It’s up to us. Now, the standard has been set,” Woodson said. “Here on out, the rest of this season, we need to put forth the same effort we did today. Play aggressive football, make plays and dominate, and I think we’re capable of doing that.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Vikings