Coming into the 2016 season, one question facing the Green Bay Packers was whether they would be able to stop the run? So far, it’s been asked and answered thanks to the dominant play of Mike Daniels and the front seven.
Last season, the Packers had issues stopping the run, finishing 21st. Then, the Packers lost B.J. Raji, one of their best interior defensive lineman to retirement and Mike Pennel, another stalwart inside, to a four-game suspension.
The questions arose and entering 2016, it looked like a potential problem once again. However, Mike Daniels and the rest of the Packers’ defense wasn’t having it.
Daniels, the former fourth-round pick, has played like a man possessed, with six tackles, (3 TFL) and a sack. And while his numbers aren’t gaudy, his play has been.
It’s also the biggest reason the Packers run defense went from below average, to elite.
“Things are changing around here,” Daniels said after the Packers beat Detroit. “We were horrible (last year), it was embarrassing.”
Through three games, the Packers have swallowed up opposing running backs. Not only are the Packers allowing just 42 yards per game, which leads the league, they also lead the NFL in opponent yards per carry (1.8), tackles for loss (21) and yards before contact, which is 33.
The yards before contact, which was put forth by ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, is particularly impressive because the next closest teams has allowed 138, 105 yards more than Green Bay.
“We’re off to a good start there,” Capers said after beating the Lions. “Their long run was 9 yards and we’ve limited the long runs, which has been as much the emphasis as anything because a year ago if we had eliminated the long runs we would have been a top run defense. But that’s what got us a year ago.”
Daniels and the D-line aren’t doing it on their own. Outside linebacker Nick Perry has been outstanding setting the edge. Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez have also played better than expected inside. The tackling everywhere has improved.
There is a lot of credit to go around, but the fact is, Green Bay has the NFL’s run defense and right now at least, it’s not close.
“For a long time, the strength of our team was our defensive backs,” Daniels said. “The focus on stopping the run might have not been as strong but our defensive line room as a lot of pride. Not saying it wasn’t before but now you can see it. Look at the way our young guys played. These are guys, they’re just kind of out of college. This is their third NFL game — first for some of them — and look at the way they played.
“It’s attitude and pride. Attitude and pride. It’s that simple.”