With starting safety Atari Bigby injured, top backup Aaron Rouse going from starter to unemployed to New York, and the next guys in line having gone though a combined four weeks of practice, there was a feeling the first-year defensive coordinator might borrow a page from last year's playbook by shifting cornerback Charles Woodson to safety.
Instead, Capers' game plan was on display during Friday's practice inside the Don Hutson Center. Off in the back corner, far away from reporters who aren't supposed to write about such things, there was linebacker Brandon Chillar lined up at safety.
Did the unorthodox plan work? Yes and no. Steven Jackson rumbled for 117 yards on 27 carries, including runs of 11, 10, 12, 10 and 20 yards, and Chillar was beaten by tight end Daniel Fells for touchdowns of 16 and 19 yards. But Jackson was held to 11 carries of 1 yard or less, and that was one reason why the Rams finished 4-of-14 on third downs as Green Bay took control in the second half of a 36-17 victory.
"We like the way that Brandon's been playing, and we felt that it was a personnel group that would match up against a bigger running back," Capers told reporters of his "Big Okie" package. "It was a way to get our best football players on the field. We thought by putting Nick Barnett, A.J. (Hawk) and Brandon out there together, we could match size with size. This running back is a tough guy to get down, as you saw today."
While safety Derrick Martin played some in the base defense (called "Okie") and replaced one of the inside linebackers in the nickel package, the Chillar-as-safety grouping was on the field for more than half of the snaps.
"Just trying to utilize our players," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It was something that came up earlier in the week. We had Brandon Chillar and Desmond Bishop on the sidelines and the ability to probably play some better run defense. It was great to get a lot of work at it today against a big-time back. We have a lot of respect for Jackson, just the way he's able to start inside and bounce it to the outside. He did a good job even today at finding the open gap, but it's just another way of playing run defense."
Working in the Packers' favor was starting quarterback Marc Bulger exiting in the second quarter with a bruised throwing shoulder. With backup Kyle Boller content to do what most backups do — throw short passes — the Rams weren't able to exploit a defense that generally had only wounded Nick Collins playing in center field. The longest reception by a Rams wide receiver covered 16 yards, and neither Boller nor Bulger bothered throwing a deep pass.
Boller started out like a house of fire, including a two-minute drive at the end of the first half in which he riddled the Packers' defense with his arm and legs, but he finished just 8-of-18 for 64 yards and an interception in the second half. The Rams failed to convert any of their seven third-down opportunities in the second half and managed only seven first downs, and Charles Woodson's third interception of the season served as the knockout punch.
The "Big Okie" was only one of the developments on defense.
First-round pick B.J. Raji made his NFL debut, though he didn't make his way onto the stat sheet. He did, however, force a holding penalty on the Rams' Adam Goldberg that wiped out a 19-yard run by Jackson in the first quarter.
Special teams standout Desmond Bishop got considerable playing time at inside linebacker for the first time of the season. Bishop replaced starter Nick Barnett for the final 23 minutes and finished with two tackles, including one for a loss. On Bishop's first play, Jackson ripped off his longest run of the game, a 20-yarder around left end in which Brady Poppinga lost leverage as defensive end Johnny Jolly crashed inside.
Barnett, however, was not benched, according to McCarthy. Rather than managing Barnett's snaps by giving him a series off here and there, he stayed in the game until he reached his snap count. Barnett recorded six tackles, including stopping Jackson for no gain on the Rams' second series.
"We're just being smart with Nick Barnett's reps," McCarthy said. "Nick has been right about 40 plays in all three games."
And Aaron Kampman made his first sack as an outside linebacker, resulting in Bulger's injury and a fumble that set up a first-quarter field goal. Kampman added three tackles and three quarterback hits in an impactful performance.
"We needed it as a team," Kampman said. "Week 3, in my experience, tells you a little something because the first two games are pretty sporadic and a little crazy. Week 3, you start to settle into a grove, and today we found a way to make the plays and get the win."
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