It's time again to check in with friend of SB Nation, Marshall Faulk, to see what his question is for week four of the NFL season. Take it away, Marshall.
Craftsmanship...that's certainly not a word I'd use to describe the Packers' offense so far this season. Surprisingly enough, I'm going on the defensive side of the ball for this one, and giving Dom Capers credit for crafting a defensive alignment which has had great success over the past six-plus quarters. I'm of course talking about the adjustment he has made to using a 4-3 Under base defense.
One definition of "craftsmanship", in my mind at least, is using the tools at your disposal to accomplish a task or develop an effective end result. Capers' tools here are his players, and it seems that he is putting the vast majority of them in places where they are succeeding.
Julius Peppers and Mike Neal are some of the first players who come to mind in this analysis. These two have played on the defensive line for the vast majority of their careers and only recently moved to a hybrid end/outside linebacker role (Neal before the 2013 season, and Peppers this year). While Neal was tasked to drop into coverage last season at linebacker due to injuries, he and Peppers are having their coverage snaps limited and are able to play on the line of scrimmage, often out of a three-point stance, and use their pass-rushing skills prominently.
Likewise, Clay Matthews is the key to this alignment, as he is the one 3-4 outside linebacker in this defense who possesses the ability and athleticism to play coverage as well as he rushes the passer. His alignment off the line of scrimmage in many instances is the key to the Packers staying in the 4-3 setup and not skipping a beat, as they can often keep that personnel grouping on the field even when an athletic tight end or a receiver lines up in the slot.
Let's look at the stats, starting with the defense's performance before they started using the 4-3 Under alignment. This covers the first game against Seattle and the first three drives against the Jets, whereas we'll compare this to the defense's performance after they started mixing in the Under front.
|Base Defense||Yards Allowed||Points Allowed by Defense||Turnovers||Sacks|
* There was one turnover by the Seahawks, but it was on a dropped punt return. Likewise, the Packers gave up 19 points to the Lions, but 9 of those were a direct result of the offense on a fumble for a touchdown and safety.
Sure, this doesn't account for playing conditions, but it's clear that the defense is getting more pressure on the quarterback, which is leading to more turnovers and fewer points on the board. Think about those four turnovers - one came as a result of a floating Geno Smith pass caused by Mike Daniels' hit; another was a strip-sack of Matthew Stafford; and the other two were Stafford picks, one of which came under pressure (as defined by Pro Football Focus).
For someone like Dom Capers, who has been regarded in the past as the kind of defensive mind who is able to get pressure on the quarterback, it's encouraging to see that his players are indeed getting in the backfield and that it is leading to turnovers and, ultimately, fewer points on the board for the Packers' opponents.