Tackling Will Be Put to Test Against Lynch

He's nicknamed "Beast Mode" for a reason. Just ask the New Orleans Saints to flash back to the 2010 playoffs for an answer. Or ask the Dallas Cowboys, who were run over by him last Sunday. Marshawn Lynch will be a unique physical challenge for the Packers on Monday night in Seattle.

Though just two games into the 2012 season, the Green Bay Packers appear to be a better tackling team than in 2011.

The missed tackles per game are down, certain members of the secondary have stepped up and, outside of a long touchdown run allowed in the season opener, there have been few glaring mistakes.

Monday night, however, will offer the Packers' defense its toughest test yet.

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is the NFL's third-leading rusher, but that only tells part of the story.

"He's tough to bring down," said Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett. "His yards after the contact got to be off the charts. You hardly ever see one player tackle him, so we're going to have to put a lot of helmets on the ball this week."

At least eight helmets had a shot at Lynch on a game-clinching, 67-yard touchdown run in a 2010 playoff game against the Saints. It was the signature run of Lynch's career. But his hard-charging style was no secret to B.J. Raji before that.

"I've been following Marshawn since he was in college and I love his style, his aggressiveness," said the Packers' nose tackle. "He runs down hill. He fits his team real well. He's obviously an elite back."

According to statistics compiled by Pro Football Focus, Lynch was second in the league in 2011 by forcing 52 missed tackles (in 15 games). This season, he is first with 14 through two games.

The Packers, on the other hand, have shown signs of improvement. After missing an average of 6.4 tackles per game in 2011, they are missing just four per game this year, albeit a much smaller sample size. Their percentage of missed tackles to total tackles has also gone down.

Three of the Packers' missed tackles this season came on one play, Gore's 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' 30-22 victory Sept. 9. Gore, who runs similarly to Lynch, hurt the Packers with 112 yards on 16 carries.

Lynch (5-11, 215 pounds) is 2 inches bigger than Gore, making him a more inviting target to hit. But other factors make him tough to bring down.

"When you watch him on film, it's tough to gauge his speed and the strength in which he runs with," said Raji, "so a lot of times some guys get caught in some compromising positions."

"I think it's a combination of both (strength and balance)," added Pickett. "His strength and his balance are like you can't believe. Like, they have him in the backfield and he shoots out of it. His power and balance are unreal. That's what makes him an exceptional back."

Of Lynch's 207 rushing yards, 161 have come after contact. And he has a knack for wearing down defenses as the carries pile up. Last week, 100 of his 122 rushing yards came in the second half in a 27-7 victory over the Cowboys.

With that as the backdrop, Pickett offers a game plan along the lines of the Chicago Bears game in Week 2: Get ahead early.

"I think the biggest thing, period, is to stop them on first down," said Pickett. "If you win first down, that's a very important down. If you win first down then, hopefully, that will put them in second-and-long and third-and-long. So, that's our focus. If we can win first down, we feel like we can win the battle.

"It seems like Seattle likes to get in third-and-short, they like to run and pound the ball, they like to get 5 yards here, 4 yards there, so if you can stop that, you have a good chance of stopping the run."

Of course, stopping Lynch will not rest solely on the defensive line. Inside linebackers D.J. Smith and A.J. Hawk will figure to see plenty of action and will need to improve on their performance of the first two games. And the defensive backs, the biggest guilty party in the missed tackle category for the Packers in 2011, will have to help out, too.

"We know that he's a guy where everybody got to be in on the tackle," said cornerback Sam Shields, who made a telling third-down stop of Gore in the fourth quarter of Week 1. "We've been preaching that since we started on Seattle."

Added safety Morgan Burnett: "Just cause one guy might have him wrapped up don't assume that he's going to go down. Try to finish it off, take a strip at the ball, and make sure you get all 11 guys rushing to the ball."

The only time Lynch faced the Packers was back in 2010 when he was with the Bills. The Packers' defense smothered an overmatched Bills' offense that day at Lambeau Field. Amidst trade rumors of coming to Green Bay, Lynch ran for 64 yards on 17 carries but did force three missed tackles. He was traded to the Seahawks 17 days later.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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