GREEN BAY – Building a championship-caliber defense takes time, not just from year to year, but from game to game within a season.
That’s what veteran Julius Peppers has always believed, and the building remains in progress for this year’s Packers, regardless of their current No. 1 ranking in points allowed.
“We can always get better. There’s always another level,” Peppers said. “You never reach your full potential. We’re striving to be the best, the best that we can be.
“We’re not comparing ourselves to anyone else. We’re trying to be the best that we can be, and that’s always an ongoing process. It’s never done.”
A 16-game season will have its hiccups, and the best defenses are the ones that nip problems in the bud. That’s part of the “process” to which Peppers refers.
After allowing Chicago’s Matt Forte to rush for 141 yards in Week 1, Green Bay buckled down and has permitted only one feature running back since to top 50 yards.
This week’s challenge is to correct what went wrong in San Diego QB Philip Rivers’ 503-yard passing performance. The Packers have their work cut out for them against a Denver offense that is likely to employ a similar scheme.
The red-zone defense was the key to beating the Chargers, but the next step is to stop that type of air attack before it gets that far.
“For as well as we’re playing, to know there’s still so much more we can get better at is very, very encouraging,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said.
For all the help the Packers have received from its youngest defensive players, such as linebackers Nate Palmer and Joe Thomas, plus rookie cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, it’s the unit’s veteran core – linebacker Clay Matthews, nose tackle B.J. Raji and defensive backs Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett, along with Peppers and Daniels – that won’t allow anyone to believe they’ve arrived.
“Just working, fundamentals, small things,” Peppers said of the daily focus. “Small things are the big things. Trying to execute everything perfectly. We strive for perfection knowing we’ll never accomplish it. If we shoot for those high marks, then we’ll come somewhere we’re satisfied with.”
It’s the same approach Peppers uses personally, and with 5½ sacks through six games, he’s on pace to reach his career high of 14½ back in 2008 with Carolina.
What Peppers likes best is this defense doesn’t rely on him, or anyone in particular, to be the primary pressure generator down after down. The 35-year-old athletic marvel is playing fewer snaps, to stay fresh for later in games and later in the season, and the Packers have six players with at least two sacks so far this season (same as the Broncos).
“You can’t just have one or two guys,” Peppers said. “You’ve got to have multiple guys. Four, five, six guys that can rush the quarterback. I think that’s the trend we’re seeing now around the league.”
Another trend with this Packers defense, according to Daniels, is the attitude it takes to the field, something he’s been harping on for the past couple of years.
He saw it developing in the second half of last season and it has carried over to this year’s early success. Daniels’ fiery leadership style stands in contrast to Peppers’ measured calm, but the combination seems to work.
“I think that just goes back to the grit Coach Mike always talks about. We’re really demonstrating that by how we play. We’re definitely playing tougher,” Daniels said, describing how the unit plays on the edge without going over the line.
“To be able to play with that kind of controlled intensity, it’s awesome. When we play like that, the results speak for themselves.”
So does Sunday night’s matchup for a guy like Daniels who admitted it’s “hard to keep an even keel” during a week of anticipation. Good thing for him Peppers’ locker is just a few stalls away.
“It’s just going to be a great game,” Daniels said. “I don’t feel there’s ever going to be a moment where anybody will want to turn their head away from the TV.
“The top two scoring defenses, two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. I have nothing else to say about that.”
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