Allen Park — When you face the Green Bay Packers, the first concern always will be bottling up quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the potent offense, but the team’s revamped defense also is looking formidable.
Coming off one of the franchise’s worst defensive performances in two decades in 2017, the Packers retooled this offseason, firing longtime coordinator Dom Capers and spending two top-50 draft picks on defensive backs in an effort to solidify a shaky secondary.
So far, the results look good. After shutting out the Buffalo Bills last week, the Packers rank sixth in the NFL in total defense and 11th in scoring.
When asked what’s different with the team’s new scheme, being orchestrated by coordinator Mike Pettine, the first thing most people notice is the unit's aggression.
“They’ll blitz at you from every angle,” Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “They’re aggressive, they’ll figure out your tendencies and really play to those things. Kind of figure out what routes you might like to run and maybe those guys are waiting on it. So, it’s a new challenge for us.”
The combination of aggressiveness in both the secondary and up front has helped the Packers record 13 sacks and six turnovers, both among the top 10 in the league. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions.
And the Packers secondary, which allowed opponents to complete 67.8 percent of passes and post a 102.0 passer rating in 2017, has been stabilized by cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, the team’s first- and second-round draft picks. Both are averaging more than 40 snaps per game.
“I think our young guys are doing well,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during a conference call. “It’s great to have (cornerback) Tramon Williams back. I feel good about the players that we’ve added to the secondary, and also the development of our young players. It has the chance to be one of our better groups over the years.”
Finally, the anchor of the entire operation is the defensive tackle tandem of Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels. Clark, in his third season out of UCLA, has quietly developed into one of the league's elite at the position.
“Those two are really dynamic in there,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “I think they work very well together. Kenny Clark does a good job with the pass-rush games. (Nick) Perry, out on the outside, they’ll run a lot of games where he can come under and Clark comes around. He’s gotten a lot of production there, is able to hit the quarterback really well. He’s big, he’s long, so he also does a good job of pushing the middle.”