Line serves up some home cookin'

Packers win battle of trenches, sack Kitna six times

This wasn't exactly a marquee match-up. The Packers and Lions had seven wins combined coming into Sunday's contest. Green Bay was a disappointing 1-5 on the hallowed tundra of Lambeau Field. The Lions were down to their fourth-string running back. Even Fox Sports reached down their depth chart and assigned former Packer Ron Pitts and former Giants quarterback turned television ‘Bachelor' Jesse Palmer to cover the game.

But if you think the Packers' 17-9 win over Detroit was ugly, keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the four guys on Green Bay's defensive line will tell you this win was equal parts Jessica Simpson and Jessica Alba with a little Beyonce thrown in for good measure. They racked up a season high six sacks, forced and recovered a fumble on fourth down near the end of the first half, applied pressure on two interceptions, made a key third down stop in the final quarter to force a field goal and ended up holding their opponent without a touchdown for the first time all year. All told, the Lions managed just 142 total yards.

"It's a sweet win!" tackle Ryan Pickett said with a smile. "Any win is good, especially at home. I don't think there's anything ugly about it. Detroit plays everybody tough and we knew that. We kept them out of the end zone and I just feel like the defense is clicking on all cylinders right now: coverage, rush, run defense… it's just an overall good performance by our defense."

Leading the way for the front four was Cullen Jenkins, whose three sacks and a fumble recovery -- all in the first half -- should earn him another game ball from his coach and probably a rose from Palmer. His play was nothing if not pretty. Jenkins, who had 18 starts under his belt at defensive tackle over the last two years, made his first career start at right defensive end in place of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and rewarded his coaches' decision with a career game.

It's a move that was long overdue and might've been made sooner had Jenkins not been hampered with a bruised ankle. KGB is an explosive pass rusher who, with 63.5 sacks is just five away from the late, great Reggie White's team record of 68.5. But at 250-pounds, he's often a liability in the running game, getting engulfed by offensive tackles who outweigh him by 60 or 70 pounds. Even some tight ends are bigger than him. And while he's getting paid like an every down player, his true value is as a pass rush specialist.

Things came to a head last week in San Francisco when 49ers running back Frank Gore went KGB's way for six yards on his first carry and then ran through his attempted tackle for 72 yards on his next carry. It was the longest run given up by the Packers since 1998. The 305-pound Jenkins was put in at right end from that point forward on running downs and helped hold Gore to just 52 yards on his next 17 carries, en route to a Packer victory and a game ball from coach Mike McCarthy.

A week later, Jenkins was lining up for his first start at end since his college days at Central Michigan. Not only did he see action on the outside during running plays, he got time at his more familiar tackle position next to KGB on some passing downs. His impact was immediate, with two first quarter sacks that set the tone for the defense. He added his third sack in the second quarter and fell on Jon Kitna's fumble at the two-minute warning of the half.

The Lions' longest run, aside from an 18-yard quarterback scramble, was just six yards. They finished with a mere 58 yards on the ground.

"It seemed like everything was going my way," Jenkins said. "And with the win, it was a great day.

"Back in training camp, I was just worried about trying to make the team. This feels good. I got my kids telling me to get a sack yesterday when I left the house. It just came. You didn't really feel like something like this would happen, you just feel like you want to go out and play a solid game. I've never had three sacks in a game. Ever."

And while the stat line trailed off for Jenkins in the second half, teammates Aaron Kampman and Corey Williams picked up where he left off, combining for three sacks in the fourth quarter. Kampman's double dip on Kitna keeps him first in the NFC with 12.5 sacks on the year and among the league leaders overall. His first takedown came with Detroit driving toward midfield to start the quarter. Then on their final series, he and Williams posted back-to-back sacks that left Kitna facing fourth-and-25 on his own 10-yard line with 45 seconds left. Williams, who had his own three-sack outburst Nov. 5 at Buffalo, now has six on the year. He's a half sack behind Jenkins, who now has 6.5.

"We got a lot of pressure on the quarterback and made him make some bad decisions, but the main thing is we got to carry it into next week," Williams said. "That's the focus right now."

What's most impressive about the six sacks by the Packers defensive line is that they came mostly on their own. That says a lot about not only the talent, but the depth of the defensive line. Of course, it also says something about the Lions' offensive line. But embattled defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, who hasn't looked like he's coordinated much of anything lately, maximized individual match-ups with stunts up front, sprinkling in blitzes only sparingly. With running back Arlen Harris not posing much of a threat, extra bodies were devoted to the passing game and the coverage and pass rush fed off each other.

It was a complete team effort and a winning formula against the Lions. We'll see how it works in four days against the Vikings.


W. Keith Roerdink

Editor's note: W. Keith Roerdink is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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