Four-Point Stance: Rewinding Week 7

Before the game, coach Mike McCarthy put the onus on his healthy offensive and defensive lines to carry the load against the Browns. Those groups delivered, and they will have to continue to deliver given the onslaught of injuries.

Packer Report reviews the Green Bay Packers' 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns after talking to the coordinators on Monday.

Offense

It was just two games, but at that early stage of the season, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones were on pace for 1,000-yard seasons and Jermichael Finley was close.

Now, it's possible the Packers will line up against the Vikings on Sunday night with only Nelson from the Fab Four.

That means more of the offense will rest on the hulking shoulders of an offensive line that has gone from preseason question mark to regular-season exclamation point.

That, in fact, was the message from coach Mike McCarthy in the days before the game.

"Yeah, especially this game, the emphasis was putting this game on our back," right tackle Don Barclay said after the game. "We wanted to run the ball, obviously pass it, but we told ourselves as a team that this game was going to be won in the trenches by the offensive and defensive line."

Added left guard Josh Sitton on Monday: "I think the culture of this team a little bit has changed with the offensive line and defensive line play. We've been playing pretty well, so we know that the onus is on us more than ever right now, and we take pride in that. It's something that we definitely have talked about. We talk about it as a line, and we take pride in going out there and being able to win games in a different fashion than we have before."

Even with the Packers averaging "just" 3.6 yards per carry against the Browns — they had averaged between 4.7 and 6.1 yards per carry the previous four games — they are third in the league with 4.90 yards per rush and sixth with 134.7 rushing yards per game.

The pass protection hasn't been as good but their sack percentage of 6.82 percent is good for 13th in the league. That's big-time improvement after ranking 28th in 2012, 22nd in 2011, 20th in 2010, 29th in 2009 and 18th in 2008 during the Aaron Rodgers era.

The Browns, as is their style and with the Packers so short-handed on the perimeter, played their base defense on practically every snap, and they kept a safety in or near the box for most of the game. Still, the Packers ran the ball effectively and did enough through the air to score 31 points.

That's a big tip of the cap to the guys in the trenches.

"They played very well," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "Our offense in general, the line played well, protected well, they blocked for the run well. The offensive line has played at a high level for the last couple of weeks. That's gratifying."

Defense

McCarthy's message to the defensive line was the same as it was to the offensive line. Your position group is healthy. It's up to you to take control of the game.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said after the game. "That's what Coach McCarthy said. He said, ‘We're banged up, we've got a lot of injuries, but' he said, ‘our big guys are all right. Because our big guys are all right, we're going to be all right.' The offensive line is healthy, the defensive line is healthy so he put an emphasis on us to run the ball and stop the run, and that's what we did."

The Browns carried 23 times for 83 yards, a 3.6-yard average. Their longest carry was an 11-yard scramble by quarterback Brandon Weeden. Take Weeden's two scrambles out of the equation and the Browns averaged just 3.0 yards per carry.

Clearly, the challenge will be much different with Adrian Peterson and the Vikings next week. Still, defensive coordinator Dom Capers always says the starting point is stopping the run, and the defense has been dominant in that regard. Green Bay ranks third with 79.0 rushing yards allowed per game and 3.4 yards allowed per carry.

Remember all of that talk about the Packers being soft?

"Real comical, right? Exactly. I think it's funny," Pickett said. "Coach has been letting us run it and we're stopping the run, so we've been showing how physical we are."

Special teams

All of the injuries have destroyed whatever continuity the Packers' special teams had built to start the season.

Here's the fallout from Robert Francois (season-ending torn Achilles), Jarrett Bush (hamstring) and Ryan Taylor (knee) out with injuries and Jamari Lattimore used sparingly because of his new importance on defense: Jake Stoneburner had a team-high 25 reps on special teams. He wasn't on the roster at this point last week. James Nixon, who played 16 snaps, was called up from the practice squad two weeks ago. Chris Harper, who played eight snaps, was claimed off waivers on Friday and didn't arrive in Green Bay until Saturday.

"I think it's a challenge to continue to have continuity when you change guys but we have to get it done," Slocum said.

The Browns won the net punting battle by 1.7 yards per kick. They started at the 41-yard line after kickoffs compared to the 26 for Green Bay. Myles White, an undrafted rookie who was promoted from the practice squad last week, botched an onside kick.

"We're going to have change and it's part of playing special teams," Slocum said. "Guys get into new roles but the expectations don't change and we need to play better. We made way too many mistakes yesterday."

Extra point

No, the Browns are not a good team. And Weeden is a terrible quarterback. Still, that shouldn't take anything away from what the Packers accomplished on Sunday.

That they manage to keep winning, regardless of what undrafted rookie is filling the shoes of an established veteran, is nothing short of remarkable.

On Monday, in a lighthearted moment at a news conference dominated by depressing talk about Jermichael Finley's injury, McCarthy chided a reporter that he was waiting for the coaching staff to get some credit. The fact is, the coaching staff deserves an incredible amount of credit. The defense dominated with a little-used sixth-round pick and an undrafted rookie playing outside linebacker. On offense, Jarrett Boykin played all of four snaps in the first three games but had 103 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.

In the Cover Story for the November issue of Packer Report Magazine, McCarthy said he would have been a teacher if not for coaching. That teaching shouldn't be overlooked as the Packers continue to win games while losing players.


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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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