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From No. 31 to No. 4: Packers' defense passes first test

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Russell Wilson isn't Matt Ryan. Nor does he have Julio Jones at his disposal. So the job the Green Bay Packers defense did on the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday's season-opening victory might come with a grain of salt.

Nevertheless, the same pass defense that finished last season ranked 31st in the NFL -- ahead of only the New Orleans Saints -- and was, to use defensive tackle Mike Daniels' word, bad-mouthed all offseason for it, sits at No. 4 in the league after its Week 1 dominance against Seattle.

Now let's see what happens when they go back to Atlanta, where Ryan and Jones torched them in last season's NFC Championship Game.

"We know they're an explosive offense," Packers cornerback Damarious Randall said of the Falcons. "They have a lot more weapons than what Seattle does. We're just going to do what we've got to do to keep them up out of the end zone. Guys are going to get yards, guys are going to make catches.

"I'm not going to say we're going to hold them from catching the ball on us. Guys are going to make catches. But we've got to cut down on the yards after the catch [and] make tackles. We've got to cut down on the missed tackles. As long as we've got 11 guys running to the ball on every play, I feel like we're going to be a hard team to score on."

The only way the Seahawks scored was via the field goal. The Packers held them to just 135 passing yards, almost exactly half of what teams, on average, got against coordinator Dom Capers' defense last season, when the Packers allowed 269.3 yards passing per game.

In the NFC title game, Ryan threw for 392 yards, and Jones accounted for 180 of that plus two touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch and run through the Packers' secondary in the old Georgia Dome.

Sunday's rematch, the first game in Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will determine whether this version of the Packers' defense is truly better than the last or if Sunday's showing against the Seahawks was a product of a punchless offense.

"They're a talented team playing in a new stadium that's turf," Capers said. "They have a lot of speed which matches up well with the turf. They were the No. 1 offense in the National Football League last year, you know. I mean they scored 28 points in the first half [of the Super Bowl] against the New England Patriots. They have those kind of capabilities. So, you have to play every play. They've got speed and big-play players and you have to account for them. And a quarterback that had a career year last year."

The Falcons put up 304 yards through the air in their season-opening win in Chicago. It was the fourth-best passing total in the league last week. So, at least on paper, this is a matchup of the No. 4 passing defense and the No. 4 passing offense.

Here's the most surprising thing: Most of the players Capers fielded Sunday against the Seahawks were part of the plan at the Georgia Dome last January. Cornerback Davon House, who played for Jacksonville last season, was the only starter on Sunday not around for the NFC title game. None of the top-four draft picks -- all defensive players acquired to steady things on that side of the ball -- played any kind of significant role against the Seahawks.

"They've got a lot of pride," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of his defense. "I thought the intensity, the pursuit and the finish was outstanding. They dominated the line of scrimmage. A) It tells you we were healthy. B) It tells you we're another year into the defense, so you can see the understanding. I thought Nick Perry and Mike Daniels had dominating performances, they were the two highest grades on the whole football team. Morgan Burnett played extremely well; really the whole secondary played well. We were disruptive across the front. The experience is obviously higher, and we're healthy and it's great to have these young guys that we can bring along."