The Green Bay Packers are 4-0 for the first time since 2011. Naturally, that early success creates plenty of optimism among fans. Only the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons remain undefeated in the NFC, and the Packers' have played better than either at this stage of the season. In particular, the team's once maligned defense has taken steps towards title contention.
Capers' defense had its best performance yet in 2015
Sunday wasn't the first indication that Dom Capers' defense had turned the corner. The unit kept Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in check in Week 2 before allowing just 7 points to the Kansas City Chiefs before garbage time. However, against a running threat like Colin Kaepernick -- the same quarterback that torched them for 181 yards on the ground in 2012 -- the Packers clamped down. Kaepernick finished with just 57 rushing yards, nearly three times the next highest total (Carlos Hyde, 20 yards).
The Packers' defensive front has elevated its play this year. Mike Daniels is in the midst of his best season yet, and the return of B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion has significantly aided the team's ability to stop the run. Though the unit will have bad outings in the future, it appears that Capers has ironed out many of the issues that plagued the team since their last Super Bowl run.
Clements shows his hand
For the most part, new offensive play caller Tom Clements' has not generated much discussion since the start of the season. The offense has operated at a high level, and the approach appears similar to the one Mike McCarthy implemented from 2006 through 2014. However, a few new wrinkles showed up during Sunday's game plan.
For a series during the first half, the Packers lined up both Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery in the backfield. Though the drive didn't lead to a score, the plan clearly baffled the 49ers on several occasions. Both Cobb and Montgomery have the ability to operate as traditional tailbacks, but they can also swing out for wheel routes.
After the game, Rodgers seemed pleased with the developments on offense. "We've had some success in the past with those types of sets, but we're expecting to mix it up and put our guys in positions to create space," Rodgers said, adding, "It's a long time from the backfield to the slot, but anywhere we line them up, we'd like to give them the ball."
The offensive tackles are a problem right now
The Packers allowed just three sacks during the team's first three games of the season. That figure doubled after the 49ers game, when the pass rush consistently got around the edges and into Aaron Rodgers' lap.
The interior continues to perform well. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang rarely yield pressure (though the former had multiple penalties on Sunday), and Corey Linsley continues to improve in his second season. However, David Bakhtiari has struggled in pass protection throughout the year, and it's fair to wonder whether he has an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile, Don Barclay will continue to get bombarded as long as Bryan Bulaga remains on the shelf.
Rodgers' magnificent footwork has bailed the unit out at times. However, the team cannot rely on their quarterback to evade the pressure every time. Bulaga's eventual return should give the unit a boost, but Bakhtiari also needs to sort himself out quickly. With games against the St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers approaching, not much time remains.