What happened to the pass rush?
At the bye following Week 6, the Packers ranked No. 2 in sacks with 23 — their third-most through six games since 1963 — and No. 5 in the NFL with a sack rate of 10.1 percent.
In losses at Denver and Carolina following the bye, the Packers had zero sacks. Against St. Louis and San Diego before the bye, the Packers had six sacks and 25 quarterback hits. Against the Broncos and Panthers, the Packers had a total of just five quarterback hits.
That paltry production was in some ways a byproduct of circumstance. Against Denver, the Broncos’ running game kept Peyton Manning and Co. out of third-and-long — and limited defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ ability to attack. Against Carolina, Capers used the pass rush to keep quarterback Cam Newton in the pocket.
“The Denver game, I felt they did the best job of mixing the run, pass, play-action, that type of thing, and getting the ball out quick,” Capers said on Monday. “All those throws were pretty much timing throws. You didn’t see Manning hold that ball very long. I think you saw as we started to pressure more over the course of the game, they started max protecting more and running two and three-receiver routes. So, it doesn’t make a difference how many you bring there.”
Against Carolina, the Packers’ defense was burned early by Newton. On the first possession, Newton took advantage of voids in Green Bay’s defense for runs of 5 and 23 yards. On the third possession, Capers sent just three rushers on third-and-16. Newton pounced on a broken coverage for a 59-yard completion to Jerricho Cotchery.
“After that, we said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to come,’” Capers said.
Against Newton, with his freakish combination of size and speed, Capers turned to a prevent-style pass rush. The goal was to put pass rushers in as many gaps as possible to take away Newton’s running options. Beyond that, pass rushers have to stay under control so they don’t create a lane for Newton to run through. So, the goal wasn’t necessarily to sack him as it was to limit his options — though some pressure is preferable to none.
“Containing Cam Newton was obviously of high importance,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We let him out of there twice in the first series. But other than that, I thought we did a much better job in our rush-lane discipline after that point. That’s part of it. When you go with that approach, that’s part of the chess match.”
Green Bay has a chance to get its sack attack going, starting with Sunday’s game against Detroit. The Lions rank 20th in sack percentage, with Matthew Stafford being the sixth-most-sacked quarterback with 22. Then, it’s the NFC showdown at Minnesota. The Vikings rank 26th in sack percentage, with Teddy Bridgewater being the 10th-most-sacked quarterback with 20.
“We’ll get it back,” said Julius Peppers, who has no sacks and one quarterback hit the last two weeks. “We’ll go out at practice, we’ll work, we’ll get our technique and fundamentals laid down and we’ll get it back.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.