Downhill Defense Not Limited To Minnesota

The Packers are considering drastic defensive changes after a second year of showing they aren't as good as they've been in the past. They may be in the playoffs, but they aren't playing that well right now. And what's happening with Ahman Green, or the offensive line? Get all the Packers notes you can stomach before the big tilt.

No matter what happens the rest of the season, it's going to be a hard sell for coach Mike Sherman if he comes back with the same plan on defense in 2005.

Last year, Sherman used Ed Donatell for a scapegoat and fired his defensive coordinator. Then he promoted secondary Bob Slowik, whose pledge to bring unique pressure packages to the Packers defense proved to be a bunch of hot air.

Sherman might clean house on defense by firing the entire staff. Whether the coach does or doesn't, he will be whistling in the dark if he thinks these same coverages, blitzes and run fits suddenly will be sound a year from now.

What Sherman owes the organization is to put personalities aside and make a thorough evaluation of defensive shortcomings. He needs to think inside and outside the box for a solution before Brett Favre's window as a championship quarterback expires.

That being said, Sherman should give serious consideration to using the 3-4 defense next season.

Six teams -- Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England, Houston, Oakland and San Diego -- began the season using the 3-4, but the Raiders' personnel was so mismatched that since midseason they've been playing almost more 4-3. Trying to play Warren Sapp as a 3-4 end was ludicrous.

The Steelers, Ravens and Patriots might be the three best defensive teams in the league.

The 3-4 reigned in Green Bay essentially through the ‘93 season under four coordinators: John Meyer (1980-83), Dick Modzelewski (1984-87), Hank Bullough (1988-91) and Ray Rhodes (1992-93). The 4-3 has been the base defense since being reinstated by Fritz Shurmur in ‘94.

When the Packers went to the 3-4 in 1980, defensive end Ezra Johnson and middle linebacker Rich Wingo were miscast. It happens to a player or two whenever a scheme change is enacted, such as the last two seasons in Atlanta when ends Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith were too small for that version of the 3-4.

Considering the scope of such a changeover, the Packers' defensive personnel is rather well suited to a 3-4.

Grady Jackson (6-1, 350 pounds) would have to give up some penetrating, but if his mind was right he'd be a perfect nose tackle. James Lee (6-4 1/2, 325) and Colin Cole (6-2, 320) would have a chance as backups, too.

Cletidus Hunt (6-4, 310) is proving every week that he doesn't move well enough anymore to be a good three-technique in a 4-3. The job isn't glamorous, but he'd have the ideal size to take on blockers as a 3-4 left end.

Aaron Kampman (6-4, 284) would get first crack at right end but might not have enough bulk. Corey Williams (6-3 1/2, 310) was born to play either end in a 3-4. Donnell Washington (6-5 1/2, 323) might fit, too.

Cullen Jenkins (6-3, 292) and Kenny Peterson (6-3, 289) wouldn't appear to have a position in base, but Jenkins could keep doing his thing in four-man fronts on passing downs.

At linebacker, Nick Barnett might be better suited to weak inside in a 3-4 than any position in a 4-3. Na'il Diggs would be a match at almost any of the four positions. Hannibal Navies doesn't seem like a good fit outside because he's a marginal pass rusher, and none of the backups figures in any defense.

The $64,000 question is what to do with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

First, Sherman would have to forget about his $3.571 million cap salary in ‘05. Second, he would have to concede that "KGB" no longer could start at end.

Are those bad things? Absolutely not.

What's done is done with his excessive contract. And, as long as the Packers play Gbaja-Biamila 81 percent of the downs, as they have through 14 games, they will always struggle to field a solid run defense.

In a 3-4, his role would be as a 35 percent pass-rushing specialist or, just maybe, as the starting strong outside linebacker. "KGB" might not have the agility or instincts to play standing up. Then again, in primarily a pass-rush role, he could become a sack machine like the one of the Steelers' linebackers.

If the Packers moved to the 3-4, they'd become the first team in the NFC using it compared to half a dozen in the AFC, which, by the way, is dominating the interconference series 39-19. The last team in the NFC North to use the 3-4 was Detroit in 1994.


Coach Mike Sherman marked his 50th birthday Sunday as the coach of football team that is in the dumpster and might have trouble getting out.

His Packers lost to a team from Florida in 12-degree weather at Lambeau Field.

Before the game even started, a crazy combination of losses by four other playoff pretenders in the NFC propelled the Packers to their 10th playoff berth since the football renaissance began here 13 years ago with Brett Favre behind center.

Then they went out and stunk up the joint with another chapter of wretched run defense, a dose of five turnovers and the typical slew of penalties (12 for 101).

Thanks to a 4-0 sweep in interconference games last weekend, the AFC holds an astonishing 39-19 margin on the NFC.

"We can't even think about the playoffs right now," guard Marco Rivera said. "To tell you the truth, that doesn't mean anything to me right now."

If the Jaguars (8-6) fail to make the playoffs in the AFC, they will become the fourth non-playoff team this season to have left Green Bay with a victory. Chicago won at Lambeau as an 8 1/2-point underdog Sept. 19, the New York Giants (7) won on Oct. 3 and Tennessee (3) won on Oct. 11.

Jacksonville, a 3 1/2-point underdog, sent the Packers reeling to their first .500-or-worse record at home since the dark final chapter of Lindy Infante's tenure in 1991.

The Packers know they can win at the Metrodome. They have done so twice in four attempts under Sherman, including last season. The Vikings are just another team backsliding down the stretch and undoubtedly pleased as punch to be situated in the NFC.


When they call the roll of great running backs, Jacksonville's Fred Taylor almost always has been behind Green Bay's Ahman Green.

But after Taylor soundly outplayed Green last Sunday, maybe it's time to reverse the order.

While Taylor carried 22 times for 165 yards and didn't fumble, Green carried 17 times for 94 yards, certainly more than adequate numbers against a Jacksonville defense that handles the run far better than Green Bay's. But he also fumbled three times, losing two, although one of the Jaguars' recoveries officially was charged to Brett Favre.

"That was his only knock coming out," Taylor said. "I like Ahman. I really think he's a good back."

Green's long gain of 27 yards looked as if it would be a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter on an isolation play over left guard. But the cornerback on that side, aging Dewayne Washington, anticipated beautifully and tackled Green from the side.

"It didn't feel like he was running fast," said Washington, 31.

It was one of the few times in his career that Green wasn't able to finish a run once in the clear.

"I was frustrated," Green said. "If I would have seen the guy earlier I might have made a cut. I just saw him at the last second and he pulled me down.

"I haven't been 100 percent the whole year."

The fact that Green surpassed 1,000 yards (he has 1,086) for the fifth straight season was hardly noticed amid fumbles and defeat.


The Packers might send punter B.J. Sander to gain seasoning in NFL Europe this spring.

Sander, a third-round draft choice in April, was retained on the 53-man roster despite an abysmal exhibition season. He has been inactive for the first 13 games behind Bryan Barker.

"Would it be wise?" special teams coach John Bonamego said. "It certainly couldn't hurt. That's something that will be discussed at the appropriate time. It's definitely something that will be considered. Anytime a player gets the chance in game situations to gain experience, it's very, very valuable."

Sander punts daily in practice, and one of the punt returners, Robert Ferguson, said, "He's kicking good, but he's always kicked good in practice."

According to Bonamego, Sander has improved his consistency.


  • Last week, Sherman said guard Mike Wahle "plays about the same every single week. I think it would be idiotic not to put him in the Pro Bowl category." Wahle didn't make it Wednesday, but teammate Marco Rivera did for the third straight season.

  • The Packers moved TE Sean McHugh from the practice squad to the active roster and cut LB Nick Rogers. They've had just two tight ends on the roster, Bubba Franks and Ben Steele, since David Martin went on injured reserve Nov. 30.

  • WR Javon Walker made the Pro Bowl for the first time. "That group of wide receivers is a tremendous group to break," coach Mike Sherman said. "I think it's deserving."

  • C Grey Ruegamer, who sat out the last 1 1/2 games with an ankle injury, will return to the lineup Friday. Rookie Scott Wells had replaced him. "He has the experience more in this environment," coach Mike Sherman said, referring to the Metrodome.

  • G Mike Wahle wants to run the ball in Minnesota. "We want to get their crowd out of it by running the ball and scoring early," he said.

  • RB Najeh Davenport carried just two times for 1 yard against the Jaguars. He broke two ribs against St. Louis on Nov. 29 and is wearing a flak jacket.

  • T Mark Tauscher might play the right side, but he has gone against stronger competition than LT Chad Clifton. "I feel I've faced better pass rushers than Chad has, I'll be honest with you," he said.

  • The Packers haven't had an interception in five of the last six games. Thus, they have seven in 14 games, tied for 30th in the league. The team record for fewest interceptions in a season is 11 in 1976. The fewest the Packers have had in a 16-game season is 13 in 1980, ‘95 and ‘98.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "His comments were he was going for the ball; maybe he was. Maybe his sole intention was to knock the ball out, but it just didn't seem like it. You'd hate to think that you'd ruin a guy's career -- Fergie, by all accounts, will come back from it. But mentally will he be the same? I don't know. I know the game of football is a violent game, and over the years, especially since I've been here, they've changed the rules each year to try to protect players more and more. I know things happen but it just didn't seem like a fair hit to me." -- QB Brett Favre on Donovin Darius' hit on WR Robert Ferguson, who was at the club's facility Wednesday. Sherman said he still didn't have total feeling in his foot or hand and also had lingering back pain. He will not travel to Minneapolis.

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