Lack of Stats Mask DL's Impact

It's been a battle at times for defensive line coach Mike Trgovac to persuade them of their importance in the new scheme, but Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly are leading the charge for the NFL's fourth-ranked run defense. The Packers haven't been that good against the run in a decade.

Last week against Dallas, the Green Bay Packers recorded a season-high five sacks. Three came from the linebackers, two from defensive backs and none from the defensive linemen.

Meanwhile, the Packers held the Cowboys to merely 61 rushing yards (48 excluding Tony Romo's scrambles). The defensive line quartet of Cullen Jenkins, Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji combined for merely five tackles.

Nor were they involved in any of the three turnovers.

That lack of statistical production, however, shouldn't be construed as, well, lack of production.

"It's just a matter of doing (your) job and making sure that this whole defense, everything has to fit together for it to work," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said on Friday. "If one guy doesn't do his job, then somebody may block that first linebacker, then the second linebacker's not free. It just ricochets down the line. If you do your job, it works."

The Packers' defense certainly worked in the 17-7 victory over the Cowboys, and there's a feeling that they found some magic that can carry over to Sunday's game against San Francisco and for the stretch run to the regular season.

"Believe me, if you look at every place I've been, I like to try to keep the offense on their heels," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I felt better about Sunday. Obviously when you have success doing it, it affects the way you call the game. You like to keep it going that way."

As Capers has maintained all along, it all starts with stopping the running game. The Packers did that so effectively that the Cowboys ignored running backs Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the second half, even though it was only a 3-0 game through three quarters.

Barber ripped off runs of 13 and 7 yards on Dallas' first possession and 5 yards on his first carry of the second possession. That gave him three carries for 25 yards. But when Barber, Jones and Tashard Choice carried five times for 6 yards for the rest of the half and Johnny Jolly dropped Barber for a 1-yard loss on the first snap of the third quarter, the Cowboys had had enough.

With the running game scrapped, Capers went on the attack.

"Early in the game, it's important that you don't let them get that run established," Capers said. "Most people in this league will get impatient with the run if you stop it early. You'll see, if you just go through and look at the stats every week, how many runs a team's had in the first half and how many they have in the second half, if things aren't going well."

More teams figure to give up on the run early if the Packers keep playing strong run defense. Due in large part to playing Cedric Benson, Steven Jackson and Adrian Peterson in successive weeks, the Packers reached the bye week ranked 20th in the NFL in run defense.


Johnny Jolly pressures Tony Romo.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
But with Jenkins, Jolly and Pickett fitting into the scheme and Raji making a larger impact over the last few games, the Packers enter Sunday's test against Frank Gore and San Francisco ranked fourth in the NFL against the run. The Packers haven't been that good since 1998, when they ranked fourth against the run and finished 11-5 but saw their run to a third straight Super Bowl derailed in a controversial playoff loss at San Francisco. They also ranked fourth in 1996, when they won Super Bowl XXXI.

The unsung heroes in the Packers' stout play against the run are the linemen. It's been no small task for Trgovac, who acknowledged it was a "little bit of a battle" to convince Jenkins and Jolly that they were key members of the defense, even though they wouldn't be getting as many opportunities to make plays as they did in Bob Sanders' version of the 4-3.

"Here's exactly what I told them," Trgovac said. "In this defense, the people that run this organization and decided to put this defense in, they know how important they are. They'll have their opportunities to make plays. It's not like that they do that every down, that they don't get a chance to go after the quarterback. But the people who run this defense and run this organization, they know how important those positions are."

Jenkins' anger after the second Minnesota game notwithstanding, they've done a superb job of adapting.

Jenkins is still producing as a pass rusher with 3.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, he's been practically unbeatable in the screen game (recall his interception against Detroit) and he's tied with Charles Woodson with a team-leading three fumbles. Jolly, with an unmistakable desire to get to the ball, has been a remarkable fit and ranks fourth on the team in tackles. While he has no sacks, he's batted down four passes and has an interception. Pickett, while playing fewer snaps because the Packers tend to go with Jolly and Jenkins in the nickel, remains immoveable in the middle, regardless of scheme. Plus, a healthy Raji is showing his first-round potential and helping to keep Jenkins and Jolly fresh.

It all came together on Sunday against Dallas, even if the stats sheet didn't show it. Trgovac declined to outline his players' roles on the blitzes that worked so well against the Cowboys, but it's safe to say that if Jenkins and Jolly don't do it full-speed, Barnett and Woodson don't get to the quarterback.

"If you saw the effort that Nick Barnett gave on those two plays — he wasn't just totally clean coming through there — but it was a matchup that we liked," Trgovac recalled of Monday's film session. "When I said, ‘Take a look at Nick Barnett blitzing right here. The job that we had wasn't glamourous, but look at Nick's effort.' I heard them both talking about it and they said, when a guy comes like that, it makes what you're doing seem important."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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