The star for this unit used to be Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, but KGB has been replaced at right end by the more versatile — and heavier — Cullen Jenkins on the right side, while the sacks and statistics are now flowing towards left end Aaron Kampman.
Kampman currently has six of Green Bay's 12 sacks for the season and amassed 27.5 sacks over the course of 2006 and 2007. He is far from an overnight sensation in that regard, but he is finally getting his due as a very skilled high-motor player that is an excellent two way defender.
Ryan Diem will have his hands full with Kampman, but the key for Diem will be to match Kampman's intensity and not allow him to get into his body. Kampman uses his hands and leverage very well and, if he gets into an offensive lineman, can basically push that lineman wherever he wants him to go.
Both ends are solid for the Packers and Gbaja-Biamila gives them considerable depth and a great deal of flexibility on passing downs, but defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are very average.
With the offense's continued inability to run the stretch play, that might be the best sign of all for the Colts, who should be able to get a strong push up the middle with Jeff Saturday, Jamey Richard, and Mike Pollak leading the charge.
The running game is improving with each week and the fact that Joseph Addai is most likely going to be scratched for the game is actually a good sign for the Colts, since Dominic Rhodes gains more yards after contact and is a stronger runner between the tackles. He should prove to be very effective against the soft middle of this Packers defensive line, even if Nick Barnett will be very aggressive in support of the big men in front of him.
When Peyton Manning drops back to pass, it will be an entirely different story, though. It's true that the Packers have only 12 sacks thus far this season, but pass rushing success is not measured merely by quarterback takedowns, it is also measured by pressure — hurries and hits being the two best indicators of pressure. Green Bay puts a great deal of pressure on the opposing team's offensive line.
Their front four is skilled and versatile and they are not afraid to blitz. Manning should be prepared for a long day of being knocked to the ground after he releases the ball and a good number of hurried throws. What he cannot afford to do, though, is make a critical mistake, as the back seven for the Packers will convert that mistake into turnovers and points.
Green Bay's front seven is rounded out nicely by AJ Hawk, Nick Barnett, and Brady Poppinga.
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Hawk is the biggest impact player of this group, but it is a close race with Barnett and Hawk wins out because of his versatility — he can rush the passer, defend against the run, and plays well in space — than a hole in Barnett's game. As stated previously, Barnett covers a lot of ground in the middle of the field and does a good job of hiding the lack of dominant play from his defensive tackles.
A successful game for the Colts would actually result in a high tackle output by Barnett, since it would mean that Rhodes, Chad Simpson, and Clifton Dawson were able to consistently get to the second level of the defense.
Poppinga is aided by the fact that he plays behind Kampman on the same size, so he is not tested as frequently as Hawk, or certainly Barnett.
However, one of the ways that the Colts can slow the pass rush down is by running right at Kampman and allowing Diem to beat up on him a little bit, taking some of the explosiveness out of Kampman's first step.
Look for the Colts to attack all sides of the line of scrimmage, but to focus on the middle of the defense, since that is where their most favorable matchups lie.
Where the linebackers are lacking, though, is in pass coverage. They all run well, but none of them runs well enough to keep pace with Dallas Clark.
The Colts should attack this matchup by lining Clark up on the strong side of the formation and isolating him on Poppinga. Barnett will help Poppinga out as much as he can, but cannot abandon his responsibilities in the middle of the defense.
By running some flag and out routes one-on-one against Poppinga, Clark should get open early and often, forcing the man coverage-oriented secondary to creep up.
Charles Woodson and Al Harris are both exceptional cover corners, but they have a tendency to play too close to the line of scrimmage, gamble by trying to jump routes far too often, and leave too much of their deep coverage duties to safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby.
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Both Bigby and Collins are better players in the box in run support than they are playing hero against the deep ball, but Collins, like Ed Reed, also has a knack for being in the right position at the right time to make a big play.
Indianapolis needs to exploit this weakness in the same manner that they did against the Ravens in Week 6. With press coverage on the outside as a key component of the Packers defense, the first few steps after the snap for Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne will be critical.
If they can gain a clean release off the line — which they were able to do consistently against Baltimore — they should be able to pick and choose their routes based on the pressure that Green Bay decides to bring and the overall ability of the front four to get to Manning without any help.
If the Packers pass rush is successful early on, then Manning and the Colts will need to work backwards, picking an aggressive back seven apart with short passes to Clark and Anthony Gonzalez.
If the pass rush fails to get to Manning at the outset, then the offense can immediately attack the flaws of the back seven with double moves and even go routes, fly routes, and deep posts.
The key will be gauging Green Bay's defensive approach and effectiveness in the early going and being as aggressive with play calls as the Packers secondary is in coverage.
Manning must also be careful with the ball, since the Green Bay secondary wins as much as it loses when it gambles. The Packers are currently tied for the league lead in team interceptions with 11.
Ryan Diem's ability to match Kampman's energy and intensity, as well as being able to wear Kampman down throughout the course of the game by utilizing his size and strength advantage is the biggest piece in the offensive puzzle.
Diem has the physical tools to shine in this situation, but may lack the attitude and motivation to excel to the degree he needs to excel for the Colts to reach their full potential on offense in this game.
If Diem cannot handle Kampman and either lets him gain an edge or, worse yet, needs help slowing him down, then that will be a win for the Packers which will further sway in their favor as the game wears on, making it easier for Green Bay to do what they want on defense and lock down on Harrison and Wayne on the edges, waiting for an errant or floating pass to pluck out of the air and take the other way.