Had the Green Bay Packers recorded sacks against Denver and Carolina, their streak would have reached 44 consecutive games and been the longest the NFL has seen in 13 years and tied for the 11th-longest in NFL history.
Instead, the Packers enter Sunday’s game against Detroit on a two-game streak without a sack.
“I’m afraid it does work the other way, when all of a sudden they’re gone,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Thursday. “They come and you think and, ‘Hey, this is pretty easy,’ but it’s not easy. So much of it depends on the offenses you’re going against, the quarterbacks, the efficiency of the quarterbacks, the scheme – all that. Our goal is to get back on the right track in terms of the quarterback pressures and takeaways.”
The sack attack doing a vanishing act is equal parts circumstance and the Packers being a victim of their own success. Against Denver, Green Bay had no answer for the Broncos’ running game. That meant six of the Broncos’ 12 third downs required 4 yards or less. Couple that with Peyton Manning being quick to unload the ball, and getting home was a major challenge. Against Carolina, Capers used his pass rush to take away Cam Newton’s running lanes as much as he used it to throw Newton off rhythm. Plus, with Green Bay piling up 23 sacks in the first six games, offenses adjusted by either throwing the ball quick or keeping extra blockers in to protect the passer. The Panthers, for instance, turned to max-protection frequently to protect their offensive tackles.
“You have spells where once you have so many sacks or pressures in a short amount of time, people take notice and they prepare and they try to take certain things away” said linebacker Julius Peppers, who has a team-high 5.5 sacks. “It’s a game of adjustments. It’s our turn to adjust and start getting pressure.”
Despite going without a sack the past two weeks, Green Bay ranks sixth with a sack rate of 8.04 percent. Beyond sacks, we assembled a chart to attempt to measure the impact of the pass rush. With a total of 53 quarterback hits, according to league data, in 309 dropbacks (286 passes plus 23 sacks), the Packers have applied pressure on 17.15 percent of opponent dropbacks. That’s the seventh-best pressure rate in the league.
“They do come in bunches, and you’re not going to go out and get six sacks every week,” Peppers said. “We’ve just got to worry about getting pressure and getting them out of their rhythm more so than getting sacks and things like that. We just want to disrupt.”
On the other side of the coin, Detroit ranks 20th in sacks allowed per pass attempt at 6.49 percent. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked seven times by Minnesota in Week 7. With that, Lions coach Jim Caldwell fired the offensive coordinator and offensive line coaches. In Week 8, Stafford was sacked six times by Kansas City. The Lions, however, have had a bye week to find some answers.
“It goes hand in hand with the pass rush and pass coverage,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who is second on the team with 4.5 sacks. “You just have to do a better job on both ends of the stick there. So, we've got to find a way to get after the quarterback. We've got to get back on track and it starts this week, so it should be a good one especially with Detroit and their propensity to throw the ball at times. Hopefully, that's the case this week.”
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.