Packers finally have a championship-caliber defense

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Do the Green Bay Packers finally have a championship-caliber defense?

Two years ago, the Packers opened their season and the Matt LaFleur era with a 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears. Following a busy offseason that saw the team add three key players on defense, quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn’t help but notice a difference.

“We got a defense,” said a smiling Rodgers as he walked off the field.

For years, the defense had let this team down on the biggest of stages. Look no further than the 2016 NFC Championship, a game in which the Packers surrendered 44 points and nearly 500 yards of offense to the Atlanta Falcons. Or the 2012 divisional round, which saw Colin Kaepernick rack up 444 by himself to eventually lead the San Francisco 49ers to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994.

There are other examples that Packers fans are probably well aware of.

When Rodgers praised his defense a little over two years ago, little did he know it would be that same group serving as the main culprit in another NFC Championship downfall. We’re talking about the 37-20 loss to the 49ers when Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns to almost single-handedly lift his team past Green Bay.

That year, the Packers’ defense finished 18th in total defense.

Even after his monstrosity for a run defense let the team down, Mike Pettine was granted another year as the team’s defensive coordinator. His unit performed better in 2020 as they ranked in the top 10 in total defense for the first time in a decade. However, a second straight loss in the NFC Championship prompted Matt LaFleur to find his own defensive mind instead of continuing on with a carryover from the Mike McCarthy era.

After countless hours of interviews, LaFleur chose a familiar face in Joe Barry to whip the defense into shape. A lot of people had doubts about the decision to bring in Barry, and rightfully so. His previous two stints as a coordinator in Detroit and Washington were nothing to be proud of.

To some, there were more attractive options. University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonard was a prime candidate but decided to stay in college. There was also Ejiro Evero, the safeties coach for the Los Angeles Rams, who was deemed a finalist.

However, LaFleur went with Barry, a guy who made a lasting impression on him when the two worked together on the Rams coaching staff in 2017.

Now 10 weeks into the 2021 NFL season, there is no doubt LaFleur made the right choice. Barry’s scheme places an emphasis on playing fast. Guys are consistently in the right spots and are unafraid of making mistakes. There is a noticeable trust factor that was lacking under Pettine.

Currently, the Packers defense is ranked third in yards and points allowed. Meanwhile, the offense is well behind, ranking 20th in total offense and 19th in points per game.

Rodgers isn’t ready to call Green Bay a defensive team just yet. But having passed the halfway point of the season, that is exactly what they are. What makes it even more impressive is who they have done it against, especially the opposing quarterbacks over the last three weeks.

The Packers have gone through a gauntlet of Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson in consecutive weeks. According to Field Yates of ESPN, their combined stats are 62-110 (56.3 completion percentage), 601 yards, one total touchdown, and four interceptions. Three MVP-caliber quarterbacks completely shut down.

It hasn’t just been the last three weeks, either. Seemingly, every quarterback has struggled against this Green Bay defense.

If that’s not a championship-level defense, I’m not sure what is.

Right now, the Packers have an 8-2 record despite missing key players on both sides of the ball. Yes, even the defense has been without two All-Pro caliber players in Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith for most of the year. If and when they return, this already stellar defense could be even better.

Finally, the Packers have a defense.

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