The Green Bay Packers’ run defense has been suffocatingly good.
And help is on the way.
Following Sunday night’s game against the Giants, defensive tackle Mike Pennel will return from a four-game suspension.
Pennel, an undrafted free agent in 2014, started five games in 2015 and tallied 35 tackles, including one sack and two tackles for losses. His rate of one tackle for every 8.40 snaps paced the defensive line. Plus, he chipped in seven pressures, more than all but Mike Daniels among the defensive line corps, and three quarterback hits.
With B.J. Raji’s decision to step away from the game, Pennel should have been primed for a major role on the defense. Instead, he let the team down with a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
While Pennel will need to work off a month’s worth of rust upon his return, he will be mentally sharp, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said.
“He’s been very engaged since he’s been here,” Trgovac said on Thursday evening. “I think mostly the thing I’ve been impressed with is how much in meetings and stuff he’s talking to players and seeing things. One of the things he and I talked about was every week he’s got to focus like he’s playing, prepare like he’s playing, and he’s done that. It’s not like he’s sat up there and he doesn’t know what Jacksonville did and what their run tendencies are and stuff like that. He’s done a great job of staying focused, and that was one of the big things he and I talked about, was every week he’s been out he’s got to prepare like he wasn’t going to be in that game. So when he does come back, he’s right on track (with) mental preparation.”
Pennel’s absence might have been a major blow to the defense. Instead, it enters this week’s games ranked No. 1 by wide margins in terms of rushing yards allowed per game and yards allowed per carry. Even with veteran Letroy Guion missing most of the last two games with a knee injury, the run defense remained stout as first-round pick Kenny Clark stepped up and youngsters Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo and Brian Price contributed. Guion is expected to return for Sunday's game against the Giants, with Pennel back after that.
“That’s just attitude,” Daniels said. “Having the young linebackers, those defensive linemen and outside linebackers, that’s just attitude and technique and hustle. When you do that, you can do some pretty good things. It’s going to be good to have the older guys back, but attitude, effort, hustle and technique, that transcends experience.”
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.