Defense goes from awful to awesome

On the surface, the only major change to the Green Bay Packers' defense entering Sunday's game at Detroit was the insertion of rookie first-round pick Ahmad Carroll into the starting lineup at left cornerback.

That doesn't explain how a beleaguered Packers defense allowed just 125 yards Sunday. Nor does it explain how a porous Packers run defense surrendered an astounding 33 yards.

No, what explains Green Bay's defensive renaissance was nothing more than a new attitude.

"Our flying to the football was different than you've seen in previous games," Packers safety Darren Sharper said.

Flying indeed.

A Green Bay defense that had been riddled to the tune of 400-plus yards per game on average over the last three weeks surrendered less than one-third of that figure in Sunday's 38-10 demolition of previously tied-for-first-place Detroit. A defense that allowed the Giants' Tiki Barber, Tennessee's Chris Brown and Indianapolis' Edgerrin James to rank first, second and third in the NFL in rushing devoured Detroit's anemic running game.

The tone was set early, with Detroit's offense going backward 7 yards on a three-and-out punt. Detroit motored 67 yards in six plays on its next possession to tie the score at 7-7. Instead of letting one touchdown become several touchdowns, as was the case against Indianapolis and Tennessee in recent weeks, Green Bay's defense buckled down.

In the final three quarters, Detroit managed to move the ball 65 yards. Total. Detroit procured two first downs in those final 45 minutes. Total.

It was a stunning reversal for a team that could neither stop the run nor the pass during a four-game losing streak.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Packers coach Mike Sherman said.

The second half was nothing short of dominance by Green Bay's defense. The Lions had the ball for just 13 plays, gained a jaw-dropping 18 yards and failed to move the first-down chains even once. Detroit possessed the ball for 6 minutes, 36 seconds in the second half.

The highlight of the showcase performance came when Sharper intercepted a Joey Harrington pass and ran it back 36 yards for a touchdown that put Green Bay in front 24-10. On the play, Harrington was pressured and forced the ball into triple coverage. Sharper caught the ball while running forward, eluded a Lions lineman near the line of scrimmage, then juked and jumped his way into the end zone.

"I think it broke their morale a little bit," Sharper said.

"One of the things Sharper does better than anyone in the league is run with the ball after an interception," defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said.

From there, it was game over.

Detroit's arsenal was empty against the maligned Packers defense. Green Bay entered the game ranked 30th in the league in rush defense but held Detroit to 33 yards on 16 rushes. That stout run defense played a big role in Detroit converting just 1 of 11 third-down chances.

Detroit's running back trio of Artose Pinner, Shawn Bryson and Kevin Jones — granted, hardly Messrs. Barber, Brown and James — combined for 18 yards on 11 rushes. Detroit's leading rusher was the quarterback, which is good news if it's Atlanta's Michael Vick but bad news if it's slow-as-molasses-in-January Harrington.

How to explain this rags-to-riches defensive effort?

"I think — actually, I know — previously we were just out there kind of walking around, wondering what's the next bad thing that's going to happen," Sharper said, "instead of flying around and no matter if something bad happens just try to think about making another play the next series or the next play. And that's what we started the game with."


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