After allowing 235 rushing yards in the Week 4 victory over Chicago, Green Bay’s run defense hit rock bottom in the NFL rankings. That unit, which was allowing 176.0 rushing yards per game through four weeks, was so bad that it stayed at the bottom of the rankings even after giving up 111 rushing yards in Week 5 against Minnesota and 112 rushing yards in Week 6 against Miami.
Finally, after holding Carolina to 108 rushing yards last week, Green Bay had scratched and clawed its way out of the cellar. That’s the good news. The bad news is the Packers rank 31st heading into Sunday night’s game at New Orleans.
“We still had a couple big runs, the quarterback got out on us one time in the Miami game but I think, overall, (we’ve improved),” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said on Thursday.
To some extent, Trgovac didn’t put a lot of stock in the early-season numbers. Veteran Letroy Guion, who missed most of training camp and played only nine preseason snaps, was in preseason form when the Packers kicked off the regular season at Seattle. The Packers missed a bunch of tackles against the Seahawks and were befuddled by Percy Harvin en route to being gouged for 207 rushing yards.
Against Detroit, the run defense was excellent until fading late in the fourth quarter. Against Chicago, the Packers — ahead by three touchdowns — gave up 52 rushing yards on the final drive of the game.
“We gave up a lot of run yardage at the end of those games that kind of piles up on you,” Trgovac said. “We did a little bit of that in the Carolina game, as well. We had that run down to exactly where we wanted it but then we let some runs get out. You’re up 38 points or whatever and guys are thinking about rushing the passer and they ran the ball a few times.”
Guion, not surprisingly, has played better as the season has progressed. And, not surprisingly, his strong play has been a key to the improvement. Guion pointed to the Week 3 game at Detroit as his personal turning point. That’s not surprising. Because of the hamstring that sidelined him through August, that Week 3 game was the equivalent of the end of training camp.
“I still have yet to play my best ball,” he said. “I’m still working really hard and getting ready for this next game.”
Guion has come through big in big moments, including the fourth-and-goal stop at Miami and a couple of short-yardage plays against Carolina. Those plays stood in stark contrast to the opener at Seattle.
“Even though he’s a veteran and experienced guy, the one thing D-linemen always have to be concerned about is their pad level,” Trgovac said. “I think that’s the first thing that happens when guys get in there is their pads start to get up a little bit higher and they’re vulnerable to certain blocks. I think he missed two tackles in the Seattle game where he did a beautiful job on the block but his pad level was high. In the Miami game, his pad level was a lot lower and he was coming after those guys. It’s a hard thing to simulate with individual drills. The only thing that really gets that going is game-time experience, and that’s what he’s got now.”
As Guion has settled in, his teammates have settled in around him. Not only have Guion and fellow defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Josh Boyd built some continuity, but so have the linebackers.
“The linebackers, it’s a feel for playing off of guys,” Trgovac said. “They like to get a comfort zone with each other in there – the line does with the linebackers. That takes a little bit of time to develop.”
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