Defense may save Sanders his job

Second straight strong performance good for coordinator's future

Two weeks ago, after the New York Jets thoroughly pounded the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was placed firmly on the hot seat. Green Bay's defense has been ranked near the bottom of the National Football League throughout the season, and there appeared to be little hope on the horizon for the Packers D, outside of bringing back Jim Bates.

Two weeks and a few major adjustments within the defense later, Sanders' unit may be doing enough to save his head, at least for another season. The Packers beat two sub-.500 teams, games they were expected to win. But the defense played a big part, keeping San Francisco in check at Monster Park, and keeping the listless Lions out of the end zone, in a 17-9 victory on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

A few keys to the defense's turnaround can be attributed to personnel changes. The Packers began utilizing defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins in place of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on base downs early in the 30-19 win over the 49ers. And Sanders has been going with more man-to-man defense, allowing cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson more opportunities to make plays.

Those changes, along with the progress shown by the defense in limiting big plays by the opponent, is reason enough to believe that there is hope for this once frustrated defense.

"I think things are coming along nicely," said Harris. "We've just got to stack up the wins."

The Packers improved to 6-8 on Sunday and are still in the NFC playoff hunt with two games remaining. To even mention playoffs and the Packers right now in the same sentence is a pleasant surprise when just two weeks ago they were riding a three-game losing streak. Change has proven to be good, and Sanders deserves credit for the improvement of the defense.

"We're doing a better job up front as far as getting pressure on the quarterback and the corners are doing a great job of holding their man," said defensive tackle Corey Williams, who had one of the Packers' season-high six sacks against the Lions. "Like I said, it all plays into a team thing. When it comes to a whole, that's when you play great defense."

If the Packers can continue to play respectable defense in their final two games, beginning with the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night and at Chicago on Dec. 31, it would be difficult to imagine head coach Mike McCarthy bringing in a new defensive coordinator for 2007. It also would be tough to see McCarthy releasing defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer from his job, especially since Kurt's brother, Marty, gave McCarthy his first NFL job with the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 1990s.

Better days are ahead for Sanders. His players are seeing to it that he is lifted off the hot seat as soon as possible.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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