Behind Enemy Lines: Packers

Todd Korth of PackerReport.com answers our questions about this new version of Green and Gold under Mike McCarthy. Why has this team come to life lately, why are the lines performing better, how do Packers fans feel out Darren Sharper and Ryan Longwell and more?

Tim Yotter: The Vikings and Packers both have new head coaches and the Vikings are struggling with Brad Childress' offensive scheme. How have the Packers made the transition to Mike McCarthy's scheme, and is it pretty similar to the ones they've run there in the past?

Todd Korth:
McCarthy and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski installed a new zone blocking scheme during the off-season. With two rookie guards and a third-year center as a regular starter for the first time in his career, the offensive line struggled in the first quarter of the season to rush the ball and score points. But in the past four games, the line, running backs and tight ends have been catching on. The offense has rushed for 121 or more yards in each of its last four games and has averaged nearly 24 points a game in that stretch.

TY: The Packers are now 10th in the league in offense, which is surprisingly good considering the expectations after last year. Has the difference simply been Brett Favre not throwing as many interceptions?

TK: Favre has trimmed his interception total significantly by making better decisions. Though he wasn't that accurate last week in Green Bay's 24-10 loss to Buffalo (two interceptions), he went three straight games without throwing a pick. To his credit, he hasn't been throwing the ball into a crowd of defenders, and has either opted to throw the ball away or take a sack.

TY: Why do you think Ahman Green is finally showing signs of returning to his old self? Was it simply a matter of playing before his body was ready the past two seasons or just that the offensive line is playing better now?

TK:
I am very surprised at how Green has bounced back from his quadriceps injury that he sustained against the Vikings in October of 2005. He keeps himself in top shape. Perhaps because of that, he stayed ahead of the curve with his rehab in the off-season. He had some hamstring problems earlier in the season, but he has rushed for 100-plus yards in three straight games, and four overall this season. I didn't think he would be able to return as quickly as he did because he was coming off a major injury.

TY: Speaking of the offensive line, most people figured that would be a weakness entering the season, but it seems to have straightened itself out quickly and now is No. 2 in the league for fewest sacks per pass play. What's been the key to that?

TK:
Mike McCarthy has helped the line quite often by keeping a tight end or a back in to protect Favre. McCarthy also will have Favre roll out of the pocket to get him in open space and make a throw, something Favre has excelled at throughout his career.

TY: On the other side of the ball, the defense is No. 2 in getting to the opposing quarterback, another big surprise. Are they doing it with lots of blitzes or is it just that the defensive line is getting a lot of pressure?

TK:
The line, which many didn't think would do much this season, is getting great inside pressure from Ryan Pickett, Corey Williams and Cullen Jenkins. Defensive end Aaron Kampman, who signed a $21 million extension this past off-season, is having a career-year with 9.5 sacks. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has been a disappointment. He only has three sacks and has not held up well against the run. But the Packers also are using a variety of blitzes to get to the quarterback as well, which has raised their sack total.

TY: Aaron Kampman is obviously having a terrific season with 9.5 sacks already. How would you characterize his all-around game, and what makes him so effective?

TK:
Mike McCarthy has often said that Kampman is a "technician." He uses his hands and leverage to beat opponents. Kampman also shed about 5-6 pounds in the off-season, which he said has helped his speed.

TY: Nick Barnett appears to finally be getting more attention outside of Green Bay. Where do you rank him among the league's middle linebackers, and do you think A.J. Hawk has helped free up Barnett?

TK:
I think Hawk has helped Barnett and vice versa. The Packers will often keep Hawk and Barnett in as part of a 3-3 passing defense to put both of them in position to make plays. Barnett has been a solid middle linebacker, but has not made enough big plays to be considered among the league's elite. Still, I probably would rank him in the lower half of the top 10 best middle linebackers.

TY: Do you think Charles Woodson has been or will be worth the money and commitment the Packers gave to him?

TK:
The jury is still out on Woodson. He has made some plays lately, though early in the season he was a non-factor in games. It didn't help that he skipped all of the team's voluntary practices in May and June. That, in turn, messed up the chemistry in the secondary through most of the first half of the season. Having been paid millions in the last couple of seasons, he seems to have his own agenda at times.

TY: Now that we're 18 months removed from Darren Sharper signing with the Vikings, what is the feeling among fans and then among the players toward Sharper, and did his ability to stand up and offer candid comments ever create rift in the Packers locker room?

TK:
No rift in the Packers locker room. A lot of players respect Sharper because he usually backs up what he says. He's a likeable guy who got along with many of his teammates while he was in Green Bay.

TY: Was there a similar attitude toward Ryan Longwell leaving? How is he viewed in the Green Bay area and by players?

TK:
Longwell is a class act. He has gained great respect by the Packers organization and fans. But it seemed obvious last year that he wanted to kick with either a warm-weather team, or a dome team this year. He not only got his wish to kick in a dome, but also a big paycheck to boot. There wasn't much more that Longwell could do in Green Bay, except be named to the Pro Bowl. But the Packers haven't had a kicker named to the Pro Bowl since Chester Marcol in 1972. K-balls and the nasty conditions that often greet kickers in Lambeau Field in November and December make it nearly impossible for a specialist to get a free ride to Hawaii in February. So, it was no surprise to see Longwell bolt. All has turned out well so far with Dave Rayner. The Packers feel they have a solid, young kicker who can progress and make mistakes as the rest of the young team progresses and makes mistakes.

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