The Green Bay Packers’ run defense has been, in a word, dominant.
The numbers tell the story.
— The Packers are allowing 42.7 rushing yards per game, tops in the league. Second-ranked Philadelphia is yielding 71.0 rushing yards per game. That’s a difference of 28.3 yards. Twenty-five teams have allowed at least double Green Bay’s average.
— The Packers have allowed a total of 128 rushing yards. Five teams are allowing more than that every week. Green Bay allowed more than that in six games last season.
— The Packers are allowing 1.80 yards per carry. No other team has even allowed less than 3.0 yards, with the second-ranked Giants giving up 3.18 yards per carry. Twenty-three teams are allowing at least double Green Bay’s average.
— How stunning is the Green Bay defense’s average per carry? From 2010 through 2015, the Packers ranked 30th with 4.54 yards allowed per attempt.
As if that’s not impressive enough, the Packers have put opponent rushing attacks in reverse. According to data at Pro Football Reference, the Packers have 19 tackles for losses on running plays. As is the case with yards per carry and yards per game, the Packers lead the NFL by a wide margin. The Ravens have 13, the Jets and Rams have 12 and no other team has more than 10.
No play personifies the Packers’ TFL dominance more than the third-and-goal from the 1 on Sunday against Detroit. On the play, Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels rocked right guard Larry Warford back a yard. Left guard Laken Tomlinson pulled to the right but ran into Warford. Tight end Cole Wick started on the right side, motioned to the left and then tried to serve as a lead blocker but also ran into the mess that Daniels created. Daniels made the tackle for good measure, resulting in the loss of 1.
“I think our big guys, especially on the outside, have been attacking and knocking people back, so it’s hard if you’re pulling the lineman or whatever if you can get an inverted line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “That happened on the goal-line play with Mike Daniels. His penetration, where he knocked the guard back, and they were trying to bring a tight end and a guard from the opposite side, and there was a pile of bodies basically. On that play, Mike Daniels used up three blocks and made that tackle because those two guys coming back were assigned to block people on the other side of the play.”
The Packers’ outside linebackers have come up big, too. With Nick Perry, Datone Jones and Julius Peppers, the Packers can set the edge with defenders who are bigger and stronger than tight ends or often are simply better run defenders than the offensive tackles they’re facing are run blockers. On Detroit’s second play from scrimmage, Theo Riddick tried to get around the corner to his left but Perry shed left tackle Taylor Decker and dropped Riddick for minus-1.
Other times, it’s just intensity. A handful of plays after Perry stopped Riddick, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott did the dirty work. With Tomlinson pulling to the right, Elliott clobbered him with his left shoulder. That jolted Tomlinson backward. Fullback Michael Burton then ran into Tomlinson, which allowed linebackers Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan to stop Riddick for a loss of 1.
A couple plays later, the Lions lined up with two tight ends to the left. Peppers destroyed Wick and was waiting for Riddick 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Peppers couldn’t quite get Riddick down but Perry, Ryan and defensive tackle Kenny Clark pounced for a loss of 6. Moments later, Perry blew inside of tight end Eric Ebron and tackled Riddick for minus-3.
“We have to keep that element of it going,” Capers said, “because if you can get a negative run and the down and distance is in your favor, you can do whatever you want on the next down basically whether you want to cover or pressure.”
It’s going to be hard to keep this pace going, because it’s unprecedented. Green Bay’s on pace for 101 tackles for losses on running plays. Last year, the Packers had 54. In 2014, they had 35. That means Green Bay’s on pace to have 12 more TFLs on running plays than the past two seasons combined.
For further perspective:
— During the first seven seasons of Capers’ reign as defensive coordinator, Green Bay ranked 21st with 39.1 TFLs on running plays per season.
— In 2009, when the Packers set a franchise record with 83.3 rushing yards allowed per game, they had 53 tackles for losses on running plays.
— During the Capers era, only one team has more than 67 TFLs vs. runs — the 2012 Buccaneers had 79.
“We’re playing tough and guys are flying around to the ball and we’re just getting physical with the other team,” Daniels said, then continued with a pause to emphasize each of the next five words: “That’s just that freaking simple.”
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.