Secondary Steps Up Minus Woodson

Blaine Gabbert, the least productive quarterback in the NFL, threw for more yards in the first half than Aaron Rodgers did for the entire game. Nonetheless, an energized defense shut the door on the Jaguars in the second half.

If the Green Bay Packers' secondary was trying to throw a little Halloween scare into its fans on Sunday, it worked.

Playing its first game without injured safety/cornerback/defender extraordinaire Charles Woodson, the Packers didn't exactly inspire with their "next man up" mantra. But in the end, they turned in enough key stops for a 24-15 win. Never mind the ugly mask on it.

With Woodson out between three and six weeks with a broken collarbone, the task of replacing him — at least in the physical sense — fell to rookie Casey Hayward as the slot corner in the team's nickel package and safety M.D. Jennings in the base 3-4 defense. Rookie safety Jerron McMillian and second-year cornerback Davon House got additional reps in the dime and sub packages.

The results in the first half were a little frightening to say the least, as the Jaguars — a 15.5 underdog coming in and rumored to actually be trick-or-treaters dressed up as NFL players, gashed the Packers for eight plays of 15 yards or more. They finished with a dirty dozen 15-plus plays.

"That's a lot," said Hayward, who had four interceptions in the three games preceding Sunday's contest. "But as long as you don't get beat over the top. (You want) 15 yards and not a touchdown, or a touchdown? You'll take the 15 yards."

The Jaguars (1-6) did this with quarterback Blaine Gabbert wading at or near the bottom of most every statistical category, and without running back Maurice Jones Drew — the Jaguars' one legitimate offensive star. And it wasn't any one player getting singled out or consistently coming up short for Green Bay — Hayward, Jennings, House, McMillian and safety Morgan Burnett had their share of miscues.

Just less than 5 minutes into the second quarter, Gabbert was 9-of-12 for 123 yards and a touchdown. By halftime, he was 14-of-25 for 195 yards. That's more than his league-worst 172.7-yard average and more than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had on the day.

An adjustment was needed. If not in scheme, then definitely in intensity. Tramon Williams said the 70,464 Lambeau Field fans were noticeably quiet in the first half, a sure sign they needed more to cheer about. It was a topic of conversation among the defensive players at halftime.

"We got together and talked about it as a defense," Williams said. "We all knew what we were missing. We all knew what was going on. You could hear it out there. The stadium was quiet. When you're at home and the stadium's quiet, it's not going well. So, we need to get these guys in the game as a defense. We talked about it. Let's get the energy up. Let's get the energy up. It enables everybody to focus in and you get that focus to where you don't want to let any of your teammates down."


Morgan Burnett applies pressure in the first half.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Burnett got the turnaround going on a second-and-10 play at the Jaguars' 25-yard line on their first possession of the second half. He came screaming in off the edge, hit Gabbert and caused a fumble that resulted in a 15-yard loss. That was the first of three consecutive three-and-outs as the Packers held Jacksonville scoreless and to minus-1 yard in the third quarter.

Gabbert, who finished with 303 yards, found his touch again in the final quarter after Green Bay pushed the lead to 21-12 on a Donald Driver score. He connected with running back Jalen Parmele for 16 yards and receiver Cecil Shorts on a 24-yarder as the Jags closed to 21-15. After Jacksonville forced Green Bay to punt, Gabbert hit running back Rashad Jennings for 15 and 18 yards in the span of three plays.

But in the end, the secondary held the Jags to just three second-half points and secured the win without the physical presence or on-field intangibles of its future Hall of Fame teammate. Despite the expectations that come with a gaudy point spread, that's all they really needed to do.

"It was tough," Burnett said of playing without Woodson. "That's one of our leaders and all us young guys look up to him, but we really wanted to go out and play hard for him. That motivated us to prove and show that we could step up when one of our leaders go out and get the job done."

It wasn't pretty. And it didn't need to be. At least not this week. Next week, however, when the Cardinals and receiver Larry Fitzgerald come to town, it could be a different story.


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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