Green Bay Packers focus on rushing defense : Packers Insider

Green Bay Packers focus on rushing defense

November 3, 2010 by  
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Nov 3, 2010 ~ by Lori Nickel

~Green Bay — At the halfway point of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 58.9 yards per game . At the end of 2009, that top spot belonged to Green Bay, which held opponents to an average of 83.3 yards per game. But the Packers aren’t anywhere close to that now.

Their rushing defense has fallen all the way to 25th at 123.6. “Really?” said injured nose tackle Ryan Pickett. “I didn’t know it was that bad. Well, we have a lot more time to make up for it. I’d like to think when I come back, I can help with that.”

Injuries and circumstances have led to the indication, at least statistically, of a defensive drop-off, say the Packers. But despite the numbers, the Packers still feel they have a very good run defense and point to the 9-0 shutout against New York on Sunday as real proof – the Jets had just 119 rushing yards. “It felt a little bit more like last year,” said defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

Coach Mike McCarthy and the staff have their reasons to believe in the run defense. And they also see great opportunity to improve in the second half of the season.

Against the Jets, the defensive line and supporting outside linebackers helped dictate the down and distance, said Capers. Capers singled out rookie C.J. Wilson for good run-stopping plays at New York, but he also said the outside linebackers, Clay Matthews and Frank Zombo, played well. “They are big in our run game because they’ve got to be able to attack and support the run,” said Capers. “And come off blocks.”

"Really?" said injured nose tackle Ryan Pickett. "I didn't know it was that bad. Well, we have a lot more time to make up for it. I'd like to think when I come back, I can help with that."

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was held to just 54 yards in 16 carries, a 3.4 yards per carry average. Shonn Greene had only 22 yards in six carries for a 3.7 average. Coming in to the game, the Jets were averaging nearly 4.5.

The Packers want to keep the average from 3.5 to 3.7, because top run defenses typically have those kind of numbers. “Those are two big-time backs with a great offensive line. It was a pretty good job for our guys,” said defensive line coach Mike Trgovac.

The Packers knew that under coach Rex Ryan the Jets had been held under 100 yards just twice. Green Bay held the Jets to 99 yards – including a 17-yard pickup by the punter – until the last play of the game.

“And on the last play, we have a defense where we’re just not going to let them score,” said Trgovac. “We have Cullen Jenkins spying in the back and only two guys rushing. And Mark Sanchez runs for 20 on us. It would have been under 100 yards. If he’d had thrown a deep ball or something we would have got it.”

Actually, scrambling quarterbacks are one of the top reasons why the Packers’ run defense doesn’t look so great on paper, say the coaches. “We’ve allowed some quarterbacks to run on us in certain situations,” said Trgovac.

The obvious example was Philadelphia’s Michael Vick in the opener. He had 103 yards in 11 carries. The Packers were actually happy with the run defense in that game because they held the Eagles running backs to 46 yards. Then Detroit quarterback Shaun Hill had 53 rushing yards.

Take away the 176 total run yards by those three quarterbacks and Green Bay’s run defense average drops to 101.6 per game, which would rank about 11th. But, of course, those runs count. The Packers must get better at stopping the quarterback. And get healthy.

The Packers didn’t have as many injuries on defense a year ago, so they didn’t have to do a lot of shuffling. “We’ve had a lot of new bodies in there,” said Trgovac.

Capers feels like he’s been behind the eight-ball since Week 1. “We went in to Philadelphia with four defensive linemen because we were planning on playing nickel,” said Capers. “Two plays into the game, Cullen breaks his hand and not very much later Justin Harrell gets his knee blown out.”

At least early on, the coaches could look forward to having rookie prospect Mike Neal for the run defense.

“He’s a bigger body than Cullen,” said Trgovac. “We brought him in here to take over Johnny Jolly’s position. Then Neal missed all those games early, comes into Washington and does a good job. But then we lose him to IR (shoulder). “We just haven’t been as healthy this year. We had a nice flow going last year.”

Jenkins was a surprise scratch for the Minnesota game with a calf pull. And the biggest loss of all, in terms of Green Bay’s run defense, is Pickett. He’s been out for nearly four whole games with an ankle injury. ” ‘Pick’ is what this defense is built around, with him being our run stuffer,” said Trgovac. “That’s what he takes pride in, that’s what he is really built for.”

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