Green Bay packs middle with plenty of run-stuffing beef
By Pete Prisco, CBS Sportsline
Yeah, and Oprah Winfrey is a runway model.
“This game [340 pounds] was right,” Pickett said after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. “I don’t know if other games it was right. It might be a little low. I’m somewhere in the area.”
|Cullen Jenkins’ return from injury helped spark the Pack’s run D in January. (Getty Images)|
Here’s a sure bet: He wasn’t in the area Sunday, despite what he might say. His ample gut was hanging over his pants, which were so tight they made him seem like the fat woman at the gym in spandex.
If he’s 340, Rex Ryan is 140.
Pickett is not alone in the Supersize Me category on the Green Bay line. Nose tackle B.J. Raji, the hero of the Sunday’s title game, is listed at 337 pounds, but he sure looks bigger than that. And when Howard Green is in the lineup at right end, the field certainly tilts in the direction of the Packers’ defense. He’s listed at 365 pounds. And that might be kind.
That means the three players who started up front against the Chicago Bears on Sunday combined to weigh more than a half a ton.
We love big guys. When William “The Refrigerator” Perry was making a splash in the mid-1980s, America took to him. He was a big, lovable guy. Here’s a fact: He was listed at 30 pounds less than Raji, the smallest of this group.
We know the Steelers will want to run the ball against the Packers in Super Bowl XLV, but the three wide loads up front might have something to say about that. Pittsburgh averaged 4.1 yards per attempt in the regular season. The Steelers struggled to run the ball against the Ravens in their first playoff game, but the two lead backs — Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman — ran it 31 times for 148 yards last week in the AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets.
“We consider teams running on us a challenge to our manhood,” Raji said.
It was challenged then in 2010. The Packers, despite their ample bulk, didn’t play the run as well as expected. Green Bay finished the season ranked 18th in total rushing defense and 28th in yards per attempt.
The Packers gave up an eye-opening 4.7 yards per rush and 114.5 yards per game. Only four non-playoff teams had lower per-rush averages.
But things changed in the postseason. The run defense improved and it’s a reason why the Packers are headed to the big game. In three playoff games, the Packers have given up 209 yards on 59 rushes, a 3.5 average. The best rushing total by any of the three teams they beat was the 83 the Bears got last week in the NFC Championship Game. But that took 24 carries.
Why has it been better?
“It’s a lot of reasons,” Pickett said. “I just think we got better. But a lot of the runs that teams got early were quarterback runs and things like that. Mainly, we got better.”
“Who’s to say?” Raji said. “Maybe it’s because the intensity picks up. I don’t know for sure.”
The return of Cullen Jenkins to the line has helped. Jenkins, who is the smallest of the group at 305 pounds, missed the final four games with a calf injury. He might be the best pass rusher of the down linemen, but he’s also capable against the run.
Football is at its purist when one team tries to run on the other. Green Bay linemen can’t wait for the challenge the Steelers will bring.
“We love that they run it,” Pickett said. “Chicago wanted to run it, and we did a good job. That’s right down our alley. We are good enough on the back end that if we stop the run up front, it will be hard for anybody to move the ball on us.”
It starts with Raji. He is a power player in the middle of the line, often forcing teams to double him. He also has quickness to go with that power. He showed that off when he returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown against the Bears. He is so athletic that the Packers use him as a lead blocker on short-yardage plays.
Raji is a first-year starter after being a 2009 first-round pick. His ability to take over the nose allowed the team to move Pickett outside to end. Raji played at a Pro Bowl level all season and also had 6½ sacks as a pass rusher.
“He’s just an athletic guy in there,” Pickett said.
With the size of the three players up front, it frees the linebackers and safeties to get to the football. When Chicago had success running some against the Packers’ nickel defense, coordinator Dom Capers went to a scheme that put Charles Woodson down in the box as a safety. That quickly flipped the momentum back to the Green Bay run defense.
“Nobody is going to run on me and B.J.,” Pickett said. “It’s tough to move us at our size. And Howard is there with us.”
You want to run, then you better move the half ton.
Full story from Prisco HERE