Green Bay has accumulated just two sacks in its first two games this season. Both came in their Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions. Last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Trent Dilfer barely got his uniform dirty.
As a result of the lack of pressure, the Packers were unable to force Dilfer into making any mistakes, or hurried throws to his receivers. The Packers were able to force a few fumbles in the game, but didn't recover any.
The Packers are indeed trying to force turnovers, which often turn games around, but with no success thus far. The primary reasons include Green Bay's lack of a pass rush combined with the inexperience at various positions on defense. Green Bay's defensive ends – Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman – have combined for 1.5 sacks in two games. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has the other half-sack of Green Bay's dismal sack total.
Coordinator Jim Bates has to be cautious in blitzing other players because of youth and inexperience. Rookie Nick Collins is starting at free safety while second-year pros Joey Thomas and Ahmad Carroll have been switching off at left cornerback. Newly acquired Robert Thomas is still getting familiar with the weak-side linebacker position. On one of the Packers' blitzes against Cleveland last Sunday, miscommunication by the defense resulted in a game-clinching 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Dilfer to tight end Steve Heiden. On the play, safety Mark Roman was out of position and missed on his attempt to tackle Heiden.
"I don't know if you can emphasize turnovers more than we emphasize turnovers every day in practice," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "I talk about them every day. I talk to (the players) about it on the field. I pulled them together a couple of times last week and talked to them about it out on the field. There were three fumbles in the game that were caused by us. They recovered two of them and one was ruled down by contact, but there were some fumbles caused in the ball game.
"I think turnovers are a result mainly from applying pressure on the quarterback, getting a fumble in the pocket from a defensive end coming around the edge and knocking the ball loose, a quarterback feeling rushed in having to make a throw that he doesn't want to make and us being in position to pick it off. We did not generate enough pass rush in the ball game on Trent Dilfer to cause him any stress in having to make a panicked-type throw."
The Packers finished near the bottom of the league last year with a minus-14 "Take-Away – Give-Away" ratio. The Packers had eight interceptions, second fewest in the NFL, and seven fumble recoveries, the fewest in the league.
"The ball is not bouncing our way for whatever reason," said Roman. "Guys know what they have to do to get the job done and they're going to do it to the best of their ability. There is no magic serum you can take, there's no magic solution. You just have to focus on your job.
"The coaches know that we can be a good defense. We've shown that. We just got to go out and prove it."
It would help if Green Bay got more pressure from its defensive line on opponents, but that hasn't happened on a consistent basis this season. Gbaja-Biamila is the best pass rusher the Packers have on the roster. If he is unable to get to the quarterback, Green Bay will continue to have a lousy take-away ratio.
"We need to have a better pass rush," Sherman said. "Kabeer and I just talked about that. In order for us to be successful at what we're doing, there has to be consistent pressure and it has to come not only from a five- or six-man effort, but from a four-man effort. Certainly, Kabeer's our guy. Cullen Jenkins has demonstrated a tremendous knack inside to apply pressure. Kenny Peterson had a couple of pretty good pass rushes the other day in the ballgame, which was encouraging. (Aaron) Kampman gave us everything he had as a pass rusher and did apply some pressure."
Still, the Packers are falling short of dropping or rushing the quarterback. As a result, the defense is struggling to create turnovers. With the current personnel on defense, don't expect this soft spot to change.
Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.