Todd Korth: Kampman is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9, and led the NFC last year with 15 ½ sacks, which earned him his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He has been consistently improving mainly due to the consistent, diligent work ethic he has used since the Packers selected him with the first of two fifth-round choices in the 2002 NFL Draft. Packers Strength and Conditioning Coach Rock Gullickson told me last week that Kampman is one of the best-conditioned athletes on the team.
With that kind of work ethic, attitude and a motor that is non-stop during games, Kampman is easily among the top four defensive ends in the league, including Kansas City's Jared Allen, the Giants' Osi Umenyiora, and Philadelphia's Trent Cole.
TY: What has Mike McCarthy been able to do to turn around the franchise so dramatically in his first two years?
TK: McCarthy has sold his young team, as well as a number of veterans at skill positions, on his system. It began late last season when the Packers won four straight games to end the year, then fortified during the off-season, and has now mushroomed to a 7-1 record.
With every big play that the Packers have made this season has come a confidence that has spread throughout the locker room. McCarthy consistently reminds his team of improvement that has to be made, which is good because the Packers have flirted with disaster on a number of occasions, including fumbling the ball away late in the game against the Vikings at the Metrodome on Sept. 30.
McCarthy has been pushing all the right buttons with his play-calling, and has worked well with Brett Favre. Favre has the green light to change plays at the line of scrimmage, but both he and McCarthy are often on the same page.
McCarthy has encouraged his team to play aggressively and be tough. With that has come a slew of penalties in recent games, but he has helped develop a winning, never-say-die attitude throughout the locker room.
TY: Most teams talk about establishing the run first. Have the Packers reached a point in their offensive philosophy where they are simply comfortable throwing the ball far more often than rushing it (308 to 175) this season? They are second in passing offense and 32nd in rushing offense.
TK: McCarthy strives for as much balance as possible in each game, but when it comes time to score, look for the Packers to go to the air. After being held to 46 yards rushing against the Vikings Sept. 30, I wouldn't expect the Packers to suddenly stick to the run. McCarthy has effectively been using the run to set up play actions, which I'm sure the Packers will try to do against the Vikes at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
TY: How much do expect that the Packers will rely on Koren Robinson in the passing game in the second half of the season?
TK: Robinson will play a role, but nothing major. The Packers are hoping to get a spark from him now and then with kickoff returns. In his first game back after his year-long suspension Sunday at Kansas City, Favre threw to Robinson seven times, and connected on three of those passes. One was intercepted in part because Favre was hit on the hand as he threw the ball. It didn't help that Robinson ran a questionable route.
Favre and Robinson get along well. Favre likes going to Robinson, but it may take a few weeks before the receiver gets into football shape. The Packers will continue to rely on Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones as their top receivers, but Robinson, a good possession receiver, will be an asset for Green Bay in spots.
TY: Donald Driver has nearly twice the receptions of Greg Jennings (44 to 23) but only one-third of the touchdowns (2 to 6). How are those two receivers used differently, and has Driver lost a step in being able to turn West Coast short passes into long gains?
TK: Driver often draws double coverage, or ‘bracket' coverage from opponents, which often leaves Jennings and Jones in single coverage. Driver is easily among the toughest receivers in the NFL, and he uses his strength well after catching the ball. He doesn't have great speed, but adequate enough to still persuade defensive coordinators to roll coverage in his direction.
Both Jennings and Driver run the slant and curl patterns that Green Bay's receivers utilize, and both have gone deep this season to make catches. Jennings, of course, made the game-winning, 82-yard catch in OT to beat Denver. Last Sunday, he caught a 60-yarder from Favre for the go-ahead score. But Driver beat double coverage for a 44-yard, one-handed catch from Favre while running along ‘the numbers' of the field.
In short, Driver and Jennings are used in similar ways on offense, and the same goes for Jones, a rookie who caught a 33-yard touchdown pass along the sideline against the Vikings on Sept. 30.
TY: The Vikings and Packers rank first and second, respectively, in the scoring return touchdowns (defense and special teams) since the start of the 2006 season and they run different defensive schemes. What's been the key to those for the Packers?
TK: Green Bay's front seven has made all the difference in creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive ends Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins have applied pressure from the outside while defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Corey Williams have been solid in the middle. Linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk have solid in coverages, but Barnett has had success blitzing.
Cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson are aggressive. They often get flagged for holding penalties, but that seems to be OK with the coaching staff. More often than not, they will come up with a big play, like Woodson's interception return for a touchdown to seal the game against the Chiefs on Sunday.
TY: What's the most underrated aspect of the team right now?
TK: There are still many experts and even Cheesehead fans who are skeptical about Green Bay's ability to continue to win games. They've seen the Packers get some lucky breaks and have seen them squeak out victories late in games this season, and have seen many penalties being assessed against the Packers. So many are not totally convinced of the team's ability to make big plays and win games. Yet, the Packers continue to do that each week.
In fact, a local Packers television show, hosted in part by offensive tackle Mark Tauscher, conducted a poll of viewers on Monday night and asked which team will win the NFC North Division this season. In somewhat of a surprise, the Packers won the poll with 50 percent of the votes, but the Detroit Lions were second with 48 percent. Just a example that there are still many who doubt Green Bay's ability to continue its first-half success.