Pressure packed defense

Jim Bates' blitzing game plan works to perfection

The first-year defensive coordinator Jim Bates, regarded as one of the best in the business, stepped out of his conservative character Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. He turned his players loose in unfettered, though controlled fashion, effectively minimizing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's influence on the outcome of the game.

The electrifying Vick, who's more apt to inflict heavy damage with his feet than his left arm, didn't know what was coming at him from all directions. Bates blitzed and blitzed often, keeping Vick from freelancing outside the pocket. The few times Vick escaped the initial pursuit, he was no sooner greeted by a linebacker or a defensive back assigned to track his every movement from the time of the snap.

"Whoever was free became the spy," linebacker Na'il Diggs said of the espionage tactics. "We weren't taught to go get him in the pocket or go rush. We were taught to mirror him. We schemed him very well. We had the proper game plan for this guy."

Harassed frequently, Vick managed only 24 yards on seven carries. He also was sacked three times and had three fumbles, one of which he turned over.

In all, the Falcons offense was forced into five fumbles, three resulting in takeaways that the Packers cashed in for 14 points.

"We felt we could get (the ball) off him if we could get in position," Bates said of Vick.

Nick Barnett invariably was at the right spot at the right time on more than a handful of instances. The speedy middle linebacker spearheaded the aggressiveness of the unit with seven tackles (all solo), a sack and two fumble recoveries.

Barnett has had at least a share of the team lead for tackles in all nine games this season. He's the athletic, impact-type of linebacker the Packers desperately needed to counteract the likes of Vick, who burned them for 136 rushing yards in two meetings in 2002. They selected Barnett with their first-round draft pick the following spring.

"I was impressed with him on film and even more impressed with him on the field," Falcons head coach Jim Mora Jr. said of Barnett after Sunday's game. "He's fast and active. He reminds me of (New York Jets linebacker) Jonathan Vilma. He's a guy who can have an impact on every play."

Barnett unofficially has 116 tackles, putting him well ahead of the pace to eclipse linebacker Mike Douglass' franchise record of 180 tackles in 1981.

"Nick Barnett does make a difference. His speed has been a factor this season," Packers coach Mike Sherman said Monday. "I told him the other day, I think he's made a jump this season to another level of linebacker. He still has another jump to go, but he's definitely making that move. He's getting things a lot quicker than maybe he has in the past."

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