Packers Pleased with Newfound ‘D'

The Green Bay Packers were more aggressive than usual and felt great about their game plan against Atlanta's Michael Vick. They explain how they did it, and we follow with notes on the state of the Vikings' next opponent.

Deservedly so, undrafted rookie running back Samkon Gado earned plenty of unexpected notoriety for his singular performance Sunday in Atlanta.

While Gado accounted for a good chunk of the Packers' points with three touchdowns, the stunning 33-25 victory over the Falcons was as much a credit to the wily play calling of Jim Bates.

The first-year defensive coordinator, regarded as one of the best in the business, stepped out of his conservative character. He turned his players loose in unfettered, though controlled fashion, effectively minimizing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's influence on the outcome of the game.

The electrifying Vick, who's more apt to inflict heavy damage with his feet than his left arm, didn't know what was coming at him from all directions. Bates blitzed and blitzed often, keeping Vick from freelancing outside the pocket. The few times Vick escaped the initial pursuit, he was no sooner greeted by a linebacker or a defensive back assigned to track his every movement from the time of the snap.

"Whoever was free became the spy," linebacker Na'il Diggs said of the espionage tactics. "We weren't taught to go get him in the pocket or go rush. We were taught to mirror him. We schemed him very well. We had the proper game plan for this guy."

Harassed frequently, Vick managed only 24 yards on seven carries. He also was sacked three times and had three fumbles, one of which he turned over.

In all, the Falcons offense was forced into five fumbles, three resulting in takeaways that the Packers cashed in for 14 points.

"We felt we could get (the ball) off him if we could get in position," Bates said of Vick.

Nick Barnett invariably was at the right spot at the right time on more than a handful of instances. The speedy middle linebacker spearheaded the aggressiveness of the unit with seven tackles (all solo), a sack and two fumble recoveries.

Barnett has had at least a share of the team lead for tackles in all nine games this season. He's the athletic, impact-type of linebacker the Packers desperately needed to counteract the likes of Vick, who burned them for 136 rushing yards in two meetings in 2002. They selected Barnett with their first-round draft pick the following spring.

"I was impressed with him on film and even more impressed with him on the field," Falcons head coach Jim Mora Jr. said of Barnett after Sunday's game. "He's fast and active. He reminds me of (New York Jets linebacker) Jonathan Vilma. He's a guy who can have an impact on every play."

Barnett unofficially has 116 tackles, putting him well ahead of the pace to eclipse linebacker Mike Douglass' franchise record of 180 tackles in 1981.

"Nick Barnett does make a difference. His speed has been a factor this season," Packers coach Mike Sherman said Monday. "I told him the other day, I think he's made a jump this season to another level of linebacker. He still has another jump to go, but he's definitely making that move. He's getting things a lot quicker than maybe he has in the past."


  • Coach Mike Sherman's midseason switch of putting Scott Wells in at left guard in place of Adrian Klemm paid immediate dividends during the 33-25 win at Atlanta on Sunday.

    A majority of Samkon Gado's 25 carries were to the left side, and the undrafted rookie churned out 103 yards. He's the first Packers running back to attain a 100-yard game this season.

    "I knew they saw me as a run blocker, so I knew going in that (running to his side) was going to be one of the things they were going to look at doing," Wells said. "I feel good about what happened out there. To have Sam go over 100 yards is huge."

    Sherman, though, cautioned that the offense hasn't rectified its season-long running woes overnight.

    The Packers came into the game ranked 30th in the league with an average of 71.9 yards per game. Buoyed by Gado, who made his first pro start, they totaled 107 yards, just the second time they've reached the century mark as a team.

    "Scott did a nice job, but I think, overall, we still have a long way to go," Sherman said Monday. "We didn't make a third-and-1 yesterday, which was very frustrating. We should have made that play. There were some plays that we didn't make that we should have made. Everything's relative. In other situations, it could have cost us the ballgame.

    "I'm not going to say our running game is where it needs to be because we rushed for 100 yards. We have a lot of work to do there and collectively as an offense. For our offense to be effective, people have to respect our running game."

  • Kicker Ryan Longwell shrugged off another snafu involving a hold on a field-goal kick and had the most prolific game of his surprisingly lean season.

    Longwell converted all four of the field-goal attempts he did try, a season high. The ninth-year veteran also drilled two kicks of at least 50 yards in a game for the first time in his career.

    Critical of first-year holder B.J. Sander earlier in the season for breakdowns that partly contributed to four field-goal misses and one missed extra point, Longwell downplayed the latest gaffe. Sander wasn't able to get a high snap from Rob Davis down in time for Longwell to kick a 51-yarder in the third quarter. Sander, the team's punter, had to improvise and throw a pass to tight end Bubba Franks that came up 2 yards short of a first down.

    "You can't think about those things," Longwell said. "All you can do is go back out there and swing away."

    Sherman, though, hasn't ruled out making a change at holder. Backup rookie quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken reps in practice since the preseason.

    "We make a decision each week on who's the best holder," Sherman said. "This one (Sunday) was a bobbled snap. It wasn't a great snap, but (Sander) should've got it down. He had other ones that weren't great snaps that he did get down. We'll evaluate that again this week and look at our options and make the best decision."

  • Although Sherman rewarded his players for the victory Sunday by giving them Monday off, WR Robert Ferguson was at team headquarters to do some running and conditioning work. Ferguson, a starter, has missed the last three games because of a torn lateral-collateral ligament in his left knee. Sherman said Ferguson's availability for the Monday night game against Minnesota would be determined later in the week.

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