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From 31st to first in a year: Packers on top of NFL's run-defense rankings

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Forgive the Green Bay Packers if they're giddy about their NFL-leading run defense even though the season is merely two weeks old.

This is the same unit that a year ago got off to a disastrous start and after two weeks ranked 31st -- ahead of only the lowly Cleveland Browns.

This year, after holding the Jacksonville Jaguars to just 48 yards rushing in the opener and the Minnesota Vikings to merely 30 yards -- their lowest rushing total since Week 12 of the 2010 season -- the Packers rank first in the league in rushing yards allowed per game at just 39. That's 11.5 yards less per game than the second-best Pittsburgh Steelers.

In two games, they have yielded 230 fewer yards rushing than they did as the same point last season. The Packers opened last season by allowing 189 yards rushing to the Chicago Bears and 119 against the Seattle Seahawks. It took a second-half-of-the-season rally just to finish 21st in the league against the run.

“We've tried to emphasize it,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We think it's important because it sets the tone of what you do on defense, especially against a team like Minnesota, that's the basis of their offense.”

It was easily the Packers' best performance against Adrian Peterson even before he departed in the third quarter with a knee injury. They held him to 19 yards rushing -- the fourth-lowest total in his 122 career regular-season games.

And they did it with a defensive line that, outside of Mike Daniels, had no other veterans after Letroy Guion sprained his knee after eight snaps.

“We held one of the great backs of all time to 19 yards and really, he was at negative-3 until we gave up a couple of runs in the second quarter,” Daniels said. “We've just got to keep tightening up that run defense. We're getting better every week. Even after Letroy went down, our young guys stepped up. Those linebackers were flying around to the football. If we continue to keep that under control then everything else will fall into place.”

The loss of Guion, who won't play this Sunday against the Detroit Lions because of an MCL sprain, means even more will be expected of those young guys Daniels mentioned. First-round pick Kenny Clark, fourth-rounder Dean Lowry and Christian Ringo (a fifth-round pick in 2015 who spent all of his rookie year on the practice squad) will see more action.

On the second level, inside linebackers Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas all recorded tackles for loss against the Vikings.

“Defensively, I thought our guys did a heck of a job stopping the run,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

That's not to say the Packers' defense, which ranks 11th in total yards and 19th against the pass, hasn't been without faults. Cornerback Damarious Randall had a forgettable performance against Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, fellow cornerback Sam Shields is out indefinitely because of another concussion and there's been a few too many big plays in the passing game for Capers' liking.

“I think through two games, I like a lot of the things we're doing, that's the one area we have to zero in on,” Capers said. “I think we've been pretty consistent with our pressure on the quarterback and consistent with our run defense, but we'd like to limit those big plays because that's how people score points on you.”