Defensive Turnaround Starts with Stopping Run

Some new faces and a few old standbys have come together to form one of the NFL's top run defenses. In fact, since Week 4, no run defense in the league has played as well as Green Bay's. Why? Ryan Pickett and Dom Capers have some answers.

The Green Bay Packers quietly have gone from one of the NFL's worst defenses to one of the best.

One key has been Green Bay's run defense, which will play a vital role in Sunday night's game at the New York Giants and next week against Minnesota.

Lost amid the torrent of big plays allowed through the air last season, the Packers finished 26th in the league with 4.7 yards allowed per carry and 14th with 118.8 rushing yards allowed per game. This season, the Packers are 16th with 4.1 yards allowed per carry and 11th with 99.5 rushing yards allowed per game.

Those numbers, however, do not tell the whole story.

Since Week 4, Green Bay is No. 3 with 3.7 yards allowed per carry and first with 84.0 rushing yards allowed per game.

"We know that our guys know how to play run defense," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Our first year here, we set the all-time franchise record."

In 2009, Green Bay led the NFL in run defense for the first time in franchise history with a team-best 83.3 rushing yards allowed per game. It was an impressive feat, considering the defense's adjustment from the 4-3 to Capers' 3-4. Ryan Pickett was part of that defense, as was A.J. Hawk and Charles Woodson. Three rookies — Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji and Brad Jones — played key roles, as well.

This defense's recent success has been an impressive feat, as well. Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Casey Hayward, Mike Daniels, Jerron McMillian and Dezman Moses are rookies who have started. Second-year players M.D. Jennings and Davon House didn't play a single snap of defense last season. Third-year player Mike Neal entered this season having played in nine games. Jones went from an afterthought at outside linebacker to the every-down inside linebacker.

And yet, the run defense has been outstanding. That's even true of the Detroit game, when the Lions ran it 24 times for 110 yards. Capers, however, played his coverage-focused nickel and dime defenses on every snap.

"It's playing hard," Pickett said. "We're doing a good job and the linebackers are doing a good job. It's a team effort. Stopping the run is a team effort. The linebackers are doing a good job and we're holding up against double teams and they're doing a good job of filling the holes. We're winning the first-down battle. It's probably the most important down."

The team's other run-stopping defensive end, C.J. Wilson, said the defense's goal to start the season was to become a top-five unit again. That started with playing better run defense. For that to happen, it meant playing with better lane integrity so a 2-yard run doesn't become a 20-yard run.

"We're more of a gap scheme and everyone's done a better job of staying in their gap," Wilson said. "We know if one person messes up, it's going to be a big blow to our defense."

Dangerous Ahmad Bradshaw (5-10, 214) awaits on Sunday night. He's 14th with 675 rushing yards, is averaging an impressive 4.5 yards per carry and rushed for four touchdowns. Andre Brown (6-0, 227), who has taken Brandon Jacobs' role as the bruiser of the backfield, has contributed 321 yards, a 5.4 average and seven touchdowns.

If the Packers can't stop that tandem, then they have little chance of extending their winning streak to six. Giving Eli Manning a steady diet of second-and-5 and third-and-2 is not a recipe for success.

"Run defense is a good example of team defense, with every guy taking care of their job and being accountable and not trying to do too much, because that's where you run into problems," Capers said. "Probably the two things I like the most about our defense is the way we've played run defense over the last few weeks and the fact that we've been one or two in sacks. I think those things correlate. From a philosophy standpoint, that's where it starts: stop the run, get them into predictable situations and then be able to pressure the passer."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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