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October 28, 1996
John Walters
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October 28, 1996

The Case For The Defense

John Walters

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Opponents' Completion Percentage


League average






















*Source: Bud Goode

Sports Computer

Behind the brilliant play of Brett Favre the Packers have scored more points (227) than any other team in the NFL this season while establishing themselves as the team to beat in '96. But an improved defense is at least as responsible as Favre for Green Bay's 6-1 start. Here are perhaps the two most illuminating statistics about this year's Packers defense: 1) Green Bay, which finished last in the NFL in takeaways last season with 16, leads that category this year with 27 (20 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries); and 2) the Pack is allowing opponents to complete only 46.7% of their passes (including sacks), a dramatic improvement over its performance a year ago (chart).

The reversal in turnover fortunes is especially eye-popping. In winning the NFC Central last season, the Packers' 16 takeaways—three fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions—was the lowest total since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. This year's defensive unit, with three new starters, is on pace to force 62 turnovers, four short of the league record set by the San Diego Chargers in the old AFL, in 1961.

Here are a few of the reasons cited for Green Bay's improved D.

?Greater Team Speed: Coach Mike Holmgren credits new defensive tackle Santana Dotson, acquired as a free agent from the Bucs, with much of the defense's improvement. Dotson gives the Pack a force up the middle to go with the heavy outside pressure from defensive ends Sean Jones and Reggie White. Many of Green Bay's interceptions this year began as passes made under duress. Also, Brian Williams, a second-year Packer who looked like a bust a year ago, now starts at outside linebacker and has played well enough to allow George Koonce to move to middle linebacker, where he's more effective. Koonce has three interceptions this season, two more than he made in his first four seasons combined.

?Good Health: All 11 starters have played every game.

?Better Hands: The savvy of safety Eugene Robinson, an 11-year veteran picked up in a trade with Seattle, has enabled strong safety Leroy Butler to play much more aggressively, and Butler leads the league in picks, with five. Early in training camp Robinson started catching passes fired at point-blank range from a pass-throwing machine, and his teammates soon joined him. Packers coaches say they have a film reel of 17 or 18 catchable interceptions that weren't caught a year ago. Now those drops are becoming interceptions.

?Better Eyes: Cornerback Craig Newsome was fitted for contact lenses in August and liked what he was suddenly able to see. After dropping two interceptions in a preseason game, Butler visited Newsome's optometrist. Butler might just as well be speaking of Green Bay's turnover turnabout as his improved vision when he says, "It's a whole different world."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]