New twist pays off for defense

'Frisco' alignment allows linebackers to make more plays

Keeping top rookie A.J. Hawk on the field has always been in the best interests of the Packers defense.

Yet, perhaps feeling a sense of urgency from an early-season start devoid of big plays, the coaches have recently put into action a well-rehearsed scheme that's begun to pay dividends. The "Frisco" package, which includes all three linebackers and three down linemen, is a substitute for the team's common nickel alignment of four linemen and two linebackers.

"It challenges the offense schematically," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's putting good pressure players in position to be productive."

Weak-side linebacker Hawk and strong-side linebacker Brady Poppinga are just the players McCarthy and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders had in mind when "Frisco" was introduced in offseason workouts and employed some in the preseason.

The scheme finally got some play last Sunday at Miami, and the results belied the team's last-place rankings for total defense and passing yards.

Poppinga had an early interception while dropping back into coverage. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett picked off a deflected pass. Hawk had a breakout game with a sack on a blitz, a pass breakup and a season-high 16 tackles, including 13 solo.

"It's a great changeup -- getting pressure on the quarterback and when we drop back into zone. We can do whatever we want out of there," Hawk said of the scheme. "It makes the defense pretty versatile when you have the linebackers in there like that."

Hawk has been a regular on the nickel since the outset of the season. The improvement made by second-year player Poppinga, who struggled early in pass coverage, and his experience from college of playing on the line made it feasible to go with the 3-3 front in nickel.

The superb play by the linebackers was instrumental in the Packers' equaling their output through the first five games with three interceptions in the 34-24 win over the Dolphins. "Frisco" will get further exposure when Green Bay hosts Arizona on Sunday.

"When the linebackers are so involved (with) the run and the pass, when they're playing well, it makes the defense a lot better," said Hawk, who has a team-high 58 tackles, one more than Barnett.

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