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LAST SEASON THE GREEN BAY DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS WAS A FANTASY OWNER'S DREAM. THE PACKERS RANKED SECOND IN THE LEAGUE IN SACKS (47), INTERCEPTIONS (24) AND SCORING DEFENSE (15.0) WHILE FINISHING FIFTH IN TOTAL DEFENSE (309.0) and sixth in takeaways (32). The unit spent the year among fantasy's elite and helped Green Bay win its first Super Bowl since the 1996 season.
And that, according to linebacker Desmond Bishop, is just the beginning. "We could still be a lot better," he says.
Bishop's assertion is hard to dispute. The Packers played last season with three starters—linebackers Nick Barnett and Brad Jones and safety Morgan Burnett—missing a combined 33 regular-season games because of season-ending injuries. All three of those players are expected to be fully healthy—and hungry—by the start of this season.
"To get all the pieces to the puzzle back, it will make us that much more potent of a defense," says Bishop. "It's going to be a little scary to see if we can reach the potential that we have."
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers's 3--4 system thrives on keeping opposing offenses guessing. Blitzes come from all directions, and no defender can be left unaccounted for. If a team focuses too much attention on sideline-to-sideline linebacker Clay Matthews, last season's runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting, it may miss versatile cornerback Charles Woodson tiptoeing on the backside or Bishop charging through the middle.
As Bears running back Matt Forte said after Chicago's 21--14 loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game last January, "It takes a half to figure out what we can do against them."
This constant pressure leads to turnovers (72 in the past two seasons, tied with Philadelphia for most in the league), which in turn yields fantasy fortune.
"[Capers] is always going for the kill, always looking for the matchup that will give us an advantage as a defense," defensive tackle B.J. Raji says. "He understands the game so well, and I believe we have the personnel that allows him to do what he can do."
Capers has no shortage of weapons, all of them comfortable with their role. "None of us are selfish players," says Bishop. "It's a competition thing. When you're out there with those guys—guys like Charles and Clay—your game has to step up another level."
Last season Green Bay was not short of defenders who raised their game to the next level. Cornerback Sam Shields, 23, was asked to swim in deep waters as a rookie in 2010 and played extensively as the nickelback. Bishop saw the first real extensive action of his career after serving mostly as a backup during his first three seasons. Both are now impact players.