Behind Enemy Lines: Part II

In part two of trading insights with a Packers reporter, Viking Update's Tim Yotter asks Todd Korth assorted questions about the Packers' effectiveness to date. It's much more than just a lovefest on Brett Favre. Find out what aspect of Green Bay's game are up to snuff and where it needs to improve.

Tim Yotter: The Packers' win over San Diego was a huge shock. What allowed them to get that done?

Todd Korth:
Head coach Mike McCarthy opted to spread the offense out and pass against the Chargers rather than run against San Diego's defense, led by nose tackle Jamal Williams. Green Bay threw the ball for 47 of its 60 offensive plays, and it helped that Brett Favre was sharp with his passes, including the go-ahead 57-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings late in the fourth quarter.

McCarthy and Favre have been on the same page in recent weeks, and it is paying off in the form of victories for the Packers and few turnovers. Favre has thrown just two interceptions this season and that's a result of making better decisions with short- to mid-range passes.

Tim Yotter: Has the offensive line been a dramatic improvement over what they had last year?

Todd Korth:
The line has been disappointing to fans and the coaching staff. It has struggled with run-blocking, though it improved last week in pass blocking by not allowing Favre to be sacked.

The Packers have two rookie running backs in the backfield – second-round pick Brandon Jackson and sixth-round fullback Korey Hall, so that may have something to do with the production of the running game. When running back Vernand Morency, the "veteran" of the backfield returns from his knee injury, the line might actually "look" better because Morency, a third-year pro, is proven runner in the zone-blocking scheme.

Tim Yotter: The three top wide receivers contributed for 16 catches last Sunday. Do you believe the Packers will have the full complement at nearly full health against Minnesota?

Todd Korth:
Yes. Donald Driver injured his knee against the Chargers, but expect him to be on the field. He is tough as nails, and at 32 years old he continues to impress everyone looking on with his ability to make big plays. Greg Jennings returned from a hamstring injury against San Diego and is expected to play. Rookie James Jones and second-year pro Ruvell Martin are next on the depth chart, so the Packers will be at full strength at wide receiver.

Tim Yotter: So far, the Packers only have five sacks over three games. Is there anything you can point to for that decline when guys like Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins are considered so adept at getting to the quarterback?

Todd Korth:
Packers defensive ends coach Carl "Big Daddy" Hairston told me this week that Kampman and Jenkins are getting double-teamed quite often, much more than last season. Kampman has one sack and Jenkins doesn't have any, but they will get their sacks because the strength of the defense is the defensive line. Defensive tackle Corey Williams has two sacks and has thrived next to veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett.

Tim Yotter: Have the Packers at least tried to establish the running game early in their first three wins or have they been content to just let Brett Favre coming out slinging it early?

Todd Korth:
McCarthy has made a half-hearted attempt, but the number of passing plays has out-weighed the number of rushing attempts. The closest the Packers have come to 50-50 was in Week 2 against the New York Giants when Green Bay rushed the ball 29 times compared to 38 pass attempts.

In a roundabout way, the Packers are running by passing. Favre has dumped short passes to the running backs on about 25 percent of his total completions thus far.

Tim Yotter: What will you remember most about Favre when he finally retires in 10 years?

Todd Korth:
Ha! That's not too far-fetched. Favre's durability, not only physically but mentally, definitely tops the list from this perch here in Green Bay. I've seen him get sacked, blind-sided, and pretty much decked many times and he continues to get up and play on. The same can be said with some of the off-field distractions that he has had in his life, such as his addiction to painkillers and deaths in his family, including his father in 2003. He has played through injuries and other distractions that would sideline many quarterbacks, yet he plays and has usually played well, as if he was never hurt.

A game in November of 1995 against the Chicago Bears stands out in my mind as an example of his physical durability. A week earlier Favre sustained a severely sprained ankle in the Metrodome in a three-point loss to the Vikings. He was on crutches all week and not many felt he would play in a game that would decide first place in the then-NFC Central Division. As gentle snowflakes fell on Lambeau Field, Favre, with his ankle heavily wrapped, high-stepped out of the north end zone during the player introduction, and the stadium went nuts. He was very limited in his movement, yet went on to throw for five touchdowns.

His greatest test of mental toughness came on Dec. 22, 2003, a day after his father, Irvin, suddenly died from a heart-attack. Many were unsure if Favre would play the Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders, yet he played on and had one of the best statistical games of his career. Favre completed 22 of 30 passes for 399 yards and four touchdowns in the 41-7 rout.

Tim Yotter: Antonio Gates had a big game on Sunday, but people expect that out of him. However, I'm wondering if covering the tight end has been a consistent concern this season?

Todd Korth:
Aside from Gates, who will beat most defenses, Packers' linebackers have done OK against top tight ends. They kept Jeremy Shockey in check in the win over the Giants, though Shockey dropped a couple of passes. Green Bay's safeties are young, and linebacker Brady Poppinga is a second-year starter, so the Vikings might be able to gain some yards by going to their tight ends when they are lined up against Poppinga, or safeties Atari Bigby and Nick Collins.

Tim Yotter: Since the Packers have won their last seven games, what have been the differences in their play early last year and since then?

Todd Korth:
The big differences have been communication on defense, improvement on special teams and the play of Brett Favre. The Packers' coaching staff and players are much more comfortable with each other in year two of the McCarthy era.

Last year at this time, Packers fans wanted defensive coordinator Bob Sanders fired after Green Bay's 1-4 start. But the defense gradually jelled over the season and finished strong. With Atari Bigby at safety instead of Marquand Manuel, whom Bigby beat out in training camp, the defense has picked up where it left off last season.

The Packers used the draft to bolster special teams, which ranked near the bottom of the league in each of the last two seasons, and Favre is playing more in control, not trying to do too much, and that has enabled him to be very effective.

Tim Yotter: Who is sort of that sleeper player on the team that we don't hear much about?

Todd Korth:
Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett doesn't get a lot of recognition for doing the dirty work in the middle of the line. Pickett's numbers are far from impressive, but he often occupies one or two blockers and collapses pockets, so others, like Corey Williams or the linebackers, can make plays in the opponents' backfield.

Tim Yotter: The Packers obviously limited LaDainian Tomlinson's effectiveness. Have they been that effective against the run in all three games or was that a concerted effort because of a lack of concern for the Chargers' passing game?

Todd Korth:
The Packers picked their poison against the Chargers by focusing on Tomlinson instead of Gates. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett was assigned to Tomlinson and, except for one play, pretty much shut him down.

The Packers' defense wasn't real good against the run in each of their first two games. The Eagles rushed for 103 yards and the Giants ran the ball well early behind Derrick Ward but were forced to pass after falling behind 28-13 early in the fourth quarter.

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