Why Can't This D Stop the Run?

Halfway through the season, the Packers have a big problem: they can't stop the run. Ranked 27th in the league, the consistent nature of their failures on the ground has raised quite a stir. Packer Report's Matt Tevsh chatted with some of the team's primary run defenders to get their thoughts on the matter.

Matt Tevsh: What have you learned about your run defense this season that you can take forward the rest of the year?

DE Jeremy Thompson: We need to play gap-sound. We have to stay physical in our gaps. With a running back like Adrian Peterson, you have to stay in your gap and make him come to you.

DT Ryan Pickett: The big plays are really killing us. You can look back at every game and when we've been giving up big rushing yards, it's usually just one big run. Tennessee broke out a big run on us. Coach is right on point. We've played great 90 percent of the time, and the 10 percent we don't, they make a play on us. We've got to stop that. We've got to play great 100 percent.

DE Aaron Kampman: I've seen a team that at times plays lights-out great run defense, and then at times getting kind of – really, it's just consistency. Giving up a 6-yard run on first down. Giving up and 8-yard run on first down. So instead of second and 7, it's second and 3 or second and 2. Then you have a great play, they run the ball again, you stop them for 2 yards and, hey, it's a first down or it's third and short. Those are the situations we're continuing to work on. We feel like we continue to address some things we saw again on film this past week and honed in a little bit more. I hate to beat the drum again of fundamentals, alignment, and assignments, but really that's what it comes down to in football. And with this team particularly, knowing each other as well as we do, it will really come down to execution.

LB Nick Barnett: We'll go 13 plays without making a mental mistake, and with just one situation, they'll make an explosive play. So we know the ball's not bouncing our way every time, so we have to execute every single snap. That's what we're practicing to do, and we're going to do it.

Tevsh: So how have you not been gap-sound? Has it been a matter of just not being on your assignment, and is it something you can work on?

Thompson: Yeah, it's just a matter of some guys trying to do too much. Just playing the two-gap instead of the one-gap. That's basically it.

Pickett: We've got too many guys trying to make too many plays instead of just doing our job – being accountable for our own job. That's kind of getting us in trouble if you watch the film. It's a peek here and a peek there that's kind of getting the running back going.

Kampman: In practice, you try to do as much as you can. [Wednesday] we were in shells, meaning no shoulder pads, and we were really working on our run fits. But it's not the same feel as a guy coming off full bore and really getting engaged. Now you can still work on pad level. You still work on a shed and a wrap. Those are things you can consistently work on. But as far as a full-speed look, no, you can't do anything like that. But no one can. The reality is that you put yourself in the best position so that, on Sunday, it becomes more routine.

LB Nick Barnett
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

DT Justin Harrell: You've just got to take it upon yourself, every individual on the field, and just know your responsibility and pretty much go through with it and do your task. That's pretty much what this all boils down to. If everyone does their job, our defense is pretty solid.

Tevsh: Is there almost a tendency to try to do too much, to try to make the big play when you're going up against a back like Peterson?

Barnett: It's easy to get ambitious no matter who you play. You want to be that player. You want to make that play for your teammates. But on the flip side, sometimes if you try to do that and you open up your gap and the other guy is playing off of you and he saw you do that, it just makes everything a little slower for everybody.

Harrell: When you're playing a back like Peterson, that just puts more pressure on you knowing that you have to be responsible and stay in your gap. He's a back with great vision that if somebody takes another gap from him, he'll find a hole. And the next thing you know, he's going for an 80-yard touchdown.

Tevsh: How much of stopping the run is attitude? It seems like the defense is playing hard every week, but is there almost an attitude that needs to come with that, too?

Thompson: Yeah, it's kind of how we want to build our defense. We need to play physical and come with the attitude every week that we need to be more physical than the other team.

Barnett: The run game is a mentality. You can't have eight guys with the run-game mentality. You have to have 11 guys with the run-game mentality. That's what we have to execute this week. It's as simple as gap control. If we control the gaps, there is nowhere for him to run. So we just got to do that and not get over-eager or too ambitious to try to make plays out of our scheme.

Matt Tevsh is a Staff Writer for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.

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