GREEN BAY—They’ve been conspicuously absent from the current stretch run for the Packers defense.
Four years ago, they were as pivotal as anything on Green Bay’s road to glory. Beginning with Week 16 in 2010, when the Packers needed to win their final two games to get into the playoffs and then won four more to take the whole thing, the Packers picked of a whopping 14 passes in six contests.
Three of them – by Tramon Williams in Atlanta, B.J. Raji in Chicago and Nick Collins in the Super Bowl – were returned for touchdowns. Three others – by Collins against the Bears in Week 17, by Williams in Philadelphia and by Sam Shields in the NFC title game – came in the waning moments to protect one-score leads.
This year, the Packers defense is playing well enough that the absence of interceptions hasn’t necessarily been noticed in two huge wins over Detroit and Dallas. It’s not as though turnovers on the whole have dried up, either, as a fumbled handoff by the Lions and Julius Peppers’ strip of Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray were game-changing plays.
For as well as Green Bay’s defensive backs have been covering lately, though, it’s odd that a member of the secondary hasn’t picked off a pass since the loss in Buffalo in mid-December.
Perhaps the Packers are due. There’s no lack of confidence in the ability to snag one or two.
“Those are the type of plays we need,” Shields said. “We have to be in the right place, and things will work out.”
Getting an interception against Seattle QB Russell Wilson on Sunday won’t be easy, however. Wilson threw the third-fewest interceptions of any regular starting quarterback in the league this season with just seven, behind only Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (five) and Kansas City’s Alex Smith (six).
Wilson’s mobility allows him to get out of the pocket to create better passing lanes or throw the ball away when needed. He’s also proving to be deadly accurate the more he plays.
“He does a great job of putting the ball only where the receiver can catch it,” cornerback Davon House said. “A prime example, the touchdown Kearse caught against Carolina.”
House was referring to Wilson’s second-quarter rainbow throw to Jermaine Kearse for a 63-yard TD that broke a 7-all tie against the Panthers last week and put the Seahawks ahead for good.
Carolina cornerback Bene Benwikere didn’t have bad coverage, but the ball dropped just perfectly over Kearse’s shoulder, allowing him to make a one-handed catch look relatively easy.
“He’s a smart guy. He’ll throw the ball away. He won’t force anything,” defensive back Micah Hyde said of Wilson. “But at the same time, Week 1 when we played him, we had a couple opportunities to make some plays, get some picks off of him, and we dropped them. You have to execute when the time presents itself.”
In that Week 1 meeting, a deflected pass was in linebacker Brad Jones’ hands before being batted away. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix missed a basket catch on a deep ball. Another deflection, this one by linebacker Nick Perry near the goal line, fluttered near two Packers defenders but neither could quite get there.
“As a defense, you want to get turnovers, and we watched those plays numerous times and talked about them,” said Hyde, who knows all about missed opportunities in the postseason following his fourth-quarter near-INT against San Francisco last year. “Hopefully going into the game on Sunday we can pull those plays off.”
They may need to. Given the history, it’s hard to imagine another Green Bay Super Bowl run without at least one interception helping to pave the path.
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