GREEN BAY – Sunday will determine whether the Packers’ defense possesses a playoff level it has yet to reach.
In the locker room this week, players weren’t necessarily buying into that notion, but for valid reasons.
The unit is still trying get healthy, with pass-rushers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry continuing to play through injuries, and the defensive backfield shuffling players around.
Also, and perhaps more important, it would be difficult for 13 turnovers in the last four games of this current six-game winning streak to not be considered playoff level in some respect.
“We just want to continue doing what we’re doing,” veteran and three-time playoff captain Julius Peppers said on Friday. “I think what we’re doing now is pretty good, and I’m talking about taking the ball away. That’s an emphasis, getting takeaways, and not giving it away. If we continue to do those things, I think we’ll be all right.”
Interestingly, the 13 turnovers in four weeks are close to the 11 the Packers generated in their four-game postseason run to the title six years ago.
It would be a lot to ask for the Packers to keep up that pace, but if the defense is to get a takeaway or two from Giants QB Eli Manning on Sunday in the wild-card game, it will start with pressuring him consistently.
Playing behind an offensive line that has been criticized off and on this season, Manning has taken just 21 sacks. That’s an indication of two things, an emphasis on quick throws and a tendency to take chances rather than sacks.
“He doesn’t like to take sacks, as you can see,” said Perry, who has petted the bulky club on his injured hand in celebration of his three sacks over the last two games. “He doesn’t take them easy.”
Manning has turned the ball over 20 times this season, with 16 interceptions and four lost fumbles (out of seven overall). In his two victorious playoff appearances at Lambeau Field, Manning turned it over just once.
“Pressure can make any quarterback uncomfortable, and that has to be your goal every drop-back pass. It doesn’t matter who it is,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “If you’re uncomfortable, you might not make your routine plays that you do when you have a clean pocket.
“To really collapse the pocket and get him off the spot and get a couple of good, clean hits on him, is always what you want.”
Manning took a season-high three sacks in the Week 5 Packers-Giants game, with much of the pressure generated against second-year left tackle Ereck Flowers.
Asked if Flowers is marked in Green Bay’s defensive game plan, Peppers downplayed the thought.
“We’re going to just play our game. We’re not necessarily going to target anybody,” he said. “We’re just going to try to execute the defense, regardless of who it is and what they’ve done.
“As we know, past performance doesn’t mean anything about future performance. Whatever has happened up to this point, it’s a new season and we just disregard it and prepare for the next game.”
One thing about Manning’s past isn’t disregarded, though.
“He’s a champion,” Peppers said. “He’s a champion, so that’s what makes him good. He’s been there, he’s done it.”
So have the Packers, for the past six weeks. The defense has taken the ball away, battled through injuries, and found a way.
They don’t want to stop now.
“It’s been pretty fun, but we’re not reflecting just yet,” Peppers said. “We’re going to try to keep this team going a couple more games, and then we’ll sit back and talk about how fun it is, in a little bit.”