In Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the Chicago Bears won’t be the only team rolling out a defense capable of dictating a game.
Clay Matthews is back to pouncing on quarterbacks after a late-season sack drought. Charles Woodson does just about everything on defense, and does it well. And cornerback Tramon Williams has made a decisive play in each of the Packers’ first two playoff victories.
So while the Bears might have a more established defensive reputation coming into Sunday’s NFC championship game in Chicago, linebacker A.J. Hawk says the Packers’ defense doesn’t mind taking a back seat during the buildup this week. They’ll just have to show what they can do Sunday.
“They’ve had some guys there for a while that have really been producing, playing well,” Hawk said of the Bears. “So if they’re getting more national attention, whatever, that’s fine. That’s OK with us. They can have it. We’ll be fine with the guys we have here.”
While quarterback Aaron Rodgers wins over fans with the way he runs one of the league’s most dangerous offenses, the Packers wouldn’t be preparing to play for a spot in the Super Bowl this week without an aggressive, consistent defense.
Despite losing several key players to injury through the season, Green Bay gave up 15 points per game in the regular season – second-best in the NFL behind only Pittsburgh.
And their play hasn’t dropped off in two road playoff games.
Philadelphia’s Michael Vick threw for 292 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the Packers limited him to 33 yards rushing in a 21-16 victory. Against the Falcons on Saturday, the Packers held quarterback Matt Ryan to 186 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and running back Michael Turner had only 39 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 48-21 victory.
Even Williams didn’t realize how well his teammates played against the Falcons until he watched game tape Monday.
“As a ‘DB’ you don’t get to see the front seven doing their job because you are in coverage all the time,” Williams said. “When you come back and watch film and see the way those guys are playing up front, it’s crazy. They’ve done a great job up there and kind of made our job easy.”
Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings sees the defense in action every day in practice.
“It’s tough,” Jennings said. “Those guys, they really fly around. Obviously with the kind of guys we have in the secondary, they’re able to make plays with the ball in the air.”
Jennings appreciates the way the Packers mix up their coverage in the secondary.
“We get the man. We get the zone. They can press,” Jennings said. “So we get to work on bump coverage quite often. And then when they’re in zone we get to work on off coverage. So they throw a lot of things at us that we’re going to see from opponents and some things we’re not going to see. They work well on preparing us, and we try to do the same.”
Woodson and Matthews are the Packers’ two biggest names on defense; Woodson was named AP Defensive Player of the Year last season, and Matthews is a favorite to win it this season.
But the Packers’ biggest defensive star in the playoffs has been Williams, an up-and-coming cornerback who earned a new contract with his stellar play this season.
Williams has three interceptions in two playoff games, including a pick of Vick in the end zone to end a late-game comeback attempt by the Eagles and a momentum-seizing 70-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime against the Falcons.
“When these playoffs and the Super Bowl are completed, everybody in the country is going to know who Tramon Williams is,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s the type of level that he’s playing at.”
McCarthy isn’t surprised at the way Williams has developed, calling him one of the team’s smartest players.
“Tramon’s the guy that’s always in the front row with his book taking the notes,” McCarthy said. “He’s been doing that since he arrived here. He has a total understanding of the defensive system. The film study, now the understanding of how the offenses are trying to attack him as far as the leverage he’s playing on a particular route. What’s exciting about Tramon, he still has a lot of football growth in his game ahead of him.”
Hawk said Williams has earned his success.
“There’s a reason he’s making huge plays, because he lives the right way,” Hawk said. “He prepares right. He is just doing everything the way you should be, I think, and he’s a great has crazy amounts of talent. But he’s doing the work to get the best out of it, I think.”
Williams insists it isn’t a “big deal” that he’s the one making game-changing plays. The way he figures, if he wasn’t making them, his teammates would be.
“I think we have lots of guys on the defense that can make those plays,” Williams said. “I think I’ve just been put in that position the last couple of weeks and made those plays.”
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