GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike Daniels saw what the Seattle Seahawks defense accomplished last season and wants that type of success for the Green Bay Packers. Finishing first in the NFL in points allowed, first in yards allowed and first in interceptions as Seattle did in 2013 is enough to draw the envy of any other team’s defensive player.
As Daniels prepares to face the Seahawks’ offense Thursday night in the regular-season opener, the third-year defensive lineman wants to do everything possible to make sure the Packers’ defense looks as good as Seattle’s.
"If you’re playing in the NFL, if you play defense, if you’re anything associated with an NFL defense and you watched the Super Bowl and didn’t take notes, you probably don’t belong here, because they showed how you get it done," Daniels said. "They didn’t do anything special. There was no crazy this or that. They rushed four, they blitzed every now and then, and then their defensive backfield was there to intimidate and the linebackers were there to fill gaps and make plays. They all hustled to the football. Everybody thoroughly, thoroughly looked like they were having fun and they enjoyed being there.
"Every tackle was like a celebration; they threw a party after every play. That’s kind of how you have to be. You have to love this game. If you don’t love it, it will show."
Daniels was second on the team in sacks last season with 6.5 and is an emerging star for Green Bay. Though he played only 48.6 percent of the snaps (mostly because he was rarely in on running plays), Daniels will be on the field in nearly every defensive situation this season. The increased role has allowed the 2012 fourth-round pick to let his voice be heard more often, and that voice is one that does not settle for being part of the 25th-ranked defense that the Packers were last year.
This offseason, Daniels wanted Green Bay’s defense to "get a lot meaner," and he’s starting to see some early results from that.
"I’m naturally mean as it is, so I don’t have to do anything new," Daniels said. "I think a lot of guys who really haven’t had a chance to show it, whether they didn’t play a whole lot, like with Datone (Jones) or Josh (Boyd), or they didn’t get to show it in a Green Bay uniform, like (Julius) Peppers or Letroy (Guion) and Ha Ha (Clinton-Dix). We’re going to see it. We’re going to see it.
"Our mentality is different. You watch practice, everybody’s running to the ball, everybody’s got a little bit more of an edge to them. The best part of it is guys do it within the rules. It’s a controlled fury, which is basically what this game is."
With the offseason additions of the players that Daniels mentioned (most notably Peppers), the Packers have their best chance in years to be a formidable defense. But to become as great as the Seahawks are on that side of the ball will be a steep climb.
Peppers, in his own unique way, should help Green Bay at least get relatively close to where Seattle is defensively.
"He doesn’t utter a word all day, but when you’re on the field, he turns into a raging psychopath," Daniels said of Peppers. "I don’t want him yelling at me for not doing my job the right way. Those are the kind of guys we need out there: guys that are going to keep each other accountable, going to stay on top of each other and make sure we get the job done."
The Packers allowed nearly 100 yards more per game and 12 points more per game than the Seahawks did last season, and that’s the difference between being the best defense in the league and being close to the bottom. There was also a very wide gap between Seattle’s NFL-best 28 interceptions and Green Bay’s mere 11 picks.
As Daniels prepares for Russell Wilson (who he described as a "dangerous football player") and Marshawn Lynch (who he described as a "dangerous running back"), he wants to make sure it’s the Packers defense that sets the tone.
"We won’t be afraid to throw the first punch," Daniels said. "Figuratively, not literally. We will not be afraid to make sure we’re the ones getting after it. We won’t be responding, we won’t be reacting. We will be attacking. Figuratively. We’ll be really getting after it, within the rules, the way we’re supposed to, instead of waiting on our heels, waiting to see what they’re going to do. ‘Oh, my goodness, they’re doing this. Now we can’t do that.’ No, we’re going to do what we do and that’s play football."
Pass rush has not been Green Bay’s issue, tying with the Seahawks for eighth in the league last season at 44 sacks. But with Daniels as a full-time player now and with Clay Matthews and Peppers on the edges at outside linebacker, an even better pass rush could fix a lot of what’s ailed the Packers.
"We’re a better pass rush team today than we’ve been in a long time," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "It’s a tribute to our players. Some of the things we’ve changed schematically, we’ve worked at it a lot more, we’ve done a lot more group work in the pass rush area, both in protection and the defensive pass rush."
Add in that with the new attitude that Daniels has seen from some of his teammates, and perhaps Green Bay has a chance to approach a Seattle-style defense.
"I think we have a good group of guys on our side of the ball," Daniels said. "They’re a lot meaner, a lot tougher and everybody’s hungry to get the job done. The complacency from the Super Bowl (in February 2011), that’s all gone. Completely gone."