Backup Backs Have Their Way

‘Tis the season to give, but not like this. The Packers' defense has yielded yards all season, and on Christmas night, it was the run defense, not the pass defense, that was the primary culprit.

For all the talk about how many yards the Green Bay Packers' defense has yielded through the air this season, the run defense reared its ugly side Sunday night.

Without premier run stopper Ryan Pickett, who missed his second straight game because of a concussion, the Packers allowed 199 yards on the ground to the Bears, who were essentially playing with their third- and fourth-string running backs.

The good news, however, was that like all the passing yards the defense has allowed this season, the inflated rushing total it gave up had little affect on the outcome. Once again, the offense rolled, and the Packers sent a sellout crowd home with the gift of a 35-21 victory Christmas night at Lambeau Field.

"We won the game and that's good," said Packers defensive lineman Howard Green, "but we have to do our part on defense and not give up over 150 yards on the ground. That's not what we want to do."

The Bears made it quite obvious that their game plan, without starting quarterback Jay Cutler and top running backs Matt Forte and Marion Barber, was to control the clock and keep the Packers' potent offense off the field. For awhile, it worked to perfection.

Early into the third quarter, with quarterback Josh McCown at the helm, they trailed just 14-10 having run 40 plays to the Packers' 25. The Packers' offense, which had impressive touchdown drives to open and close the first half, also had three possessions without a first down.

Bears third-year running back Kahlil Bell, making just his second career start, ran for 121 yards on 23 carries (a 5.3-yard average). He had only 39 rushing attempts on the season heading into the game, giving the Packers a relatively unscouted player to contend with.

"We didn't see much of him on film, so it would be a surprise (from that standpoint)," said Green. "But you could see how he was running out there. He has power. He has good quickness and speed, and he was making some good reads. He could probably play for anybody right now the way he ran the ball. He was making some really good cuts and reads and they were consistent running the ball and they were patient."

Added linebacker Desmond Bishop, who returned to the lineup after missing the last three-and-half games with a calf injury: "I guess people think they've got the formula and that's to keep A-Rod and the offense off the field. So, of course you want to run the ball to run the clock as much as possible. But what did surprise me was the skill level of the back. Bell is a good back. Much props."

Rookie Armando Allen, a practice squad player who was elevated to the active roster for the first time this season in the absence of Barber, chipped in, too, with 40 rushing yards. No matter what defensive front the Packers tried – two-, three-, or even four-down lineman – the Bears found success while the game was in doubt.

"We didn't execute, and they came out and out-tempoed us on defense," said Bishop, who tied for team-high honors with 12 tackles (one for loss). "A couple mistakes here or there, missed tackles, some stuff we gave them, but they earned it."

The down performance by the Packers' run defense was a stark contrast from the first meeting with the Bears this season at Soldier Field. In Week 3, with Forte as the main ball-carrier, the Packers held the Bears to 13 rushing yards on 12 carries. After that game, the Packers ranked No. 1 in the league in run defense. Since then, they have slowly fallen to 12th in the league, which looks OK considering the 31st-ranked pass defense.

Only the Vikings, led by one of the game's best backs in Adrian Peterson, have rushed for more yards (218) in a game against the Packers this season.

The Chiefs, who ran for 139 yards on 39 carries against the Packers last Sunday, may not have had the same kind of success in yards-per-carry that the Bears did, but they were no less effective in controlling the clock. They had 13 more plays than the Packers while the Bears had 19 more than the Packers on Sunday night.

"The time of possession and the number of attempts, and the ability to produce yardage against our defense, we need to get that flipped," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "That's definitely something that will be graded and discussed."

In addition to throwing different defensive fronts at the Bears, the Packers played all their available defensive players in the game. Four outside linebackers – starter Erik Walden, backups Brad Jones, Vic So'oto, and Jamari Lattimore – all got a shot to play opposite Clay Matthews.

But the big man missing in the middle, Pickett, is hoping to be cleared to play soon because the Packers cannot afford to have their run defense go south. Not in the playoffs, and not with this pass defense.

"A lot of people say at this point you are who you are, but we're trying to change that," said Bishop. "We don't really know exactly how, but we know we have to. The character of the guys on our defense, when it comes down to it, we're going to find a way."

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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