Green Bay Packers want better line of attack : Packers Insider

Green Bay Packers want better line of attack

October 22, 2010 by  
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Oct 22, 2010 ~ by Tom Silverstein

~Earlier this week, the Green Bay Packers’ defensive line sat down and watched film of the two losses against the Minnesota Vikings in 2009.

Mostly, it was a big waste of time. The only thing they saw was down after down of failure getting to quarterback Brett Favre.

“They had our number last year,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said.

Did they ever. In 79 passing plays over the two games, the statistics looked like this:

Cullen Jenkins: no sacks, one quarterback hit.
Pickett: no sacks, no quarterback hits.
B.J. Raji: no sacks, no quarterback hits.
Johnny Jolly: no sacks, no quarterback hits.

If the Packers are going to have any success against the Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field, they’re going to have to avoid so many donuts.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme is structured so that the first job of the defensive line is to stop the run, and if they don’t get a lot of sacks, it’s not the end of the world.

But if they don’t get pressure, the chances of linebacker Clay Matthews ending plays with a sack go way down. “I think the first thing playing the Vikings, you have to stop Adrian Peterson,” Pickett said of the Vikings’ star running back. “I think last year that was what our main focus was.

“I just don’t think we did a good job upfront just getting off the ball and getting pressure on him (Favre).”

It’s no secret that Capers’ No. 1 priority was shutting down Peterson, who through five games this year is on pace to rush for 1,770 yards.

In the first game, the Packers held Peterson to 55 yards in 25 carries, and in the second, they limited him to 97 yards in 25 carries, a 3.9 average.

But at the same time Peterson was having trouble getting free, Favre threw for seven touchdowns and no interceptions, posting a two-game passer rating of 135.9.

The formula worked just fine for the Vikings, who won, 30-23, in Minneapolis and, 38-26, at Lambeau Field.

“We know it’s definitely the reason we didn’t win,” Pickett said of failing to pressure Favre. “You have to hit Brett. Look at all the teams that have had success against the Vikings; it all comes down to the same thing.

“They all got pressure on him. We realize we have to make it uncomfortable for him.”

So far this season, Favre has been sacked 13 times and thrown seven interceptions. He had a better day in a victory against Dallas on Sunday but still only threw one touchdown and was sacked three times.

Until Matthews missed the Miami game last Sunday with a hamstring injury, the Packers were second in the NFL in sacks with 21. Matthews leads the team with 8.5, but the defensive line has contributed 7.5, including four by Jenkins and 2.5 by Raji.
The biggest difference has been the move of Raji to nose tackle and Pickett to defensive end. Staying over the nose in the base defense and at tackle in nickel situations has been a recipe for success for Raji.

A year ago, the No. 9 pick in the draft, battled an ankle injury most of the season and never had much of an impact. This season, not only is he settling in as a run-stopper in the middle, he’s helping collapse the pocket, so quarterbacks can’t step up when Matthews comes around the corner.

“Understanding what up-top (the front office) expects of me when they drafted me ninth, they were looking for a guy to solidify the middle of this defense and everything else will go from there,” Raji said.

“When I get my opportunities in pass rush, I try to make the most of them.”

Putting Raji and Pickett together in the nickel package on first downs has been a good way for Capers to play with extra defensive backs but still make a concession to the run.

Both players weigh more than 335 pounds and try to eat up blockers on running plays, so the linebackers can clean up.

The transition to being a run-stopper was a difficult one for Raji. Pickett’s strength is playing the run, but Raji was used to getting upfield off the snap of the ball in college. It took him a full season to understand what Capers wanted of him.

“I’m understanding the defense a lot better,” said Raji, who is playing a high number of snaps and has 25 tackles this season. “You come into the NFL as a defensive lineman, and it’s a little different. It’s not like you’re just playing in space, doing everything you did in college.

“Offensive linemen are more precise, protections are more complicated and more effective. A lot of times, just experience is what usually helps you out.”

A year ago, Jenkins was utterly frustrated with the game plans Capers had for the Vikings, feeling it did not play to his pass-rushing strength. It was hard for him to see Favre standing in the pocket without any heat on him.

Jenkins has come to see eye-to-eye with Capers on the defensive scheme and is rushing from numerous different positions so opponents can’t key on him. Capers tries to split up Jenkins and Matthews, so it’s difficult to slide protection in their direction and cover up both of them.

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