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  • Updated

LaFleur and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan (above) both did their best to extinguish the storyline that the longtime friends’ relationship has become strained — to put it mildly — following the 49ers’ interest in Rodgers during the offseason. There are those inside Lambeau Field who are convinced that the 49ers tampered with Rodgers, and if you want to dismiss the frosty postgame handshake between two guys who’ve worked together in three different places and known each other for going on two decades, go ahead. That’s exactly what Shanahan and LaFleur want you to do.

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If you’re among those passionate Packers fans who are feeling an alarming déjà vu vibe of past defenses who let the team down when the stakes were the highest, you’re not alone. What had been a top-5 outfit just a few weeks ago has started ceding big plays and big point totals to opponents, and while defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s guys have fallen to eighth in total defense (325.8 yards per game) and tied for 10th in scoring defense (21.6 points per game), Barry (above) isn’t panicking.

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Much has been made — and rightfully so — of inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell’s importance to the Packers defense, and had he tested positive for COVID-19 during a normal week, the Packers might’ve found out just how different their defense would be without Campbell (above) in the mix. Instead, Campbell contracted the virus during the bye week and was able to return to the team facility at Lambeau Field on Friday, early enough to take part in practice.

For years, the most obvious, glaring weakness in the Packers defense — no matter who the coordinator was, no matter what style of scheme they ran — was at inside linebacker. Suddenly, it’s become perhaps the strongest position on that side of the ball with veteran De’Vondre Campbell, the NFC’s October defensive player of the month, and second-year man Krys Barnes (above), who had a team-high nine tackles — including one of the best goal-line stops you’ll see — last week against the Chiefs.

Not that anyone spent much time this week talking about the Packers defense, but that oft-maligned unit entered the week ranked seventh in the 32-team NFL in total defense (331.8 yards per game) and ninth in scoring defense (20.9 points per game). Considering the unit’s horrendous start and Joe Barry’s less-than-stellar résumé from his previous two defensive coordinator stints, that turnaround has deserved far more attention than it has received — especially considering how difficult it is to be a good defense in today’s NFL.