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Packers’ No. 1 defense puts its foot down

Posted Aug 22, 2014

DuJuan Harris gives offense productive RB trio


GREEN BAY—One bad play.

That’s all the Packers’ No. 1 defense could really be criticized for on Friday night, a 40-yard touchdown run on Oakland’s opening possession when Maurice Jones-Drew slipped tackle attempts by safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker A.J. Hawk and was off to the races.

After that, Green Bay’s starting defense allowed exactly zero net yards over the next five drives in what became a 31-21 preseason victory at Lambeau Field. The Raiders’ only first downs against the Packers’ first unit came on back-to-back pass interference penalties on cornerback Sam Shields. Otherwise, nothing.

“You have to be happy with the way the defense bounced back,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “We wanted to set the tone early, and we gave up that long run. After that, we kind of put our foot down and said no more of that.”

Veteran Julius Peppers got the defense headed in the right direction with a sack on the first play of Oakland’s second drive. Hyde followed with a tackle for loss on a third-down pass in the flat, and Oakland punted for the first of five straight times.

“Just trying to knock a little rust off before we get to these real games,” said Peppers of getting his first Green Bay sack.

“He’s definitely a key addition to this defense,” Hyde said of Peppers. “When he speaks, we listen. It’s as simple as that. After that first drive, he said some things and we all just listened. He has some experience.”

Still, the long run bugged the defensive starters. It came on third-and-2, and once Jones-Drew broke through the line of scrimmage, there was no one in his way. It’s not how the Packers wanted to follow up a standout performance against the run last week in St. Louis.

That one play prevented Green Bay’s defenders from declaring their unit ready for the regular-season opener in Seattle in less than two weeks.

“Definitely not. I don’t think so at all. We left some plays out there,” Hyde said. “I don’t think we’re 100 percent ready at all.”

Added Peppers: “We need to get better at everything. We need to wrap up better and tackle. We need to rush better. There’s always room for improvement.”

DuJuan Harris didn’t have a perfect night either, but he put any doubts to rest about his status as the No. 3 running back in this offense behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

Rebounding from a fumble last week in St. Louis, Harris carried a hefty load, rushing 12 times for 56 yards and adding two receptions for 42 more yards. Harris went 31 yards on a screen pass on the first play of the second quarter, setting up the offense’s second touchdown of the night.

“He ran the way he ran before. He had the knee injury last season, and he’s starting to get back to his old self,” said Lacy, who had six carries for 36 yards on the opening TD drive.

“You could see it out there. He had flashes of speed, flashes of his agility, flashes of his power. It’s all coming back to him. He’s playing natural and just a lot more comfortable.”

The only blemishes for Harris were a pair of false-start penalties, both of which turned third-and-4 into third-and-9 and led to punts from deep in Green Bay territory. He chalked those up to being a bit jittery and overanxious.

“I still have to relax a little bit,” he said. “I had a couple penalties I have to eliminate, and I didn’t hear a couple calls I should have.”

Harris called the backfield trio of Lacy, Starks and himself “something special,” which he said he sensed a year ago before his knee injury removed him from the equation. Lacy feels that having all three ready to roll will always give the offense a fresh option.

“I think it’s great,” Lacy said. “It’s three of us, we all bring something different to the table, and we’re all three explosive and we all can help the offense out. How they decide to use us, we have no idea, but no matter who’s in there, it’s not going to be a drop down at all.”

As for players further down the depth chart fighting for roster spots, undrafted rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott recorded his fourth sack in two games and also batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.

Also, receiver Alex Gillett made an acrobatic, juggling catch for a 15-yard touchdown, tipping the ball to himself along the end zone sideline for Green Bay’s final points of the night. Gillett also had a tough 8-yard grab on a slant pass with a defender on his back, while Chris Harper made an impressive 27-yard diving catch.

All those contributed to a sharp-looking night for quarterback Scott Tolzien, who finished 8-of-11 for 107 yards and a TD, good for a 133.5 passer rating.

“There were a lot of balls out there that could have gone either way,” Tolzien said. “Tonight, guys were making plays on the ball, and the line was protecting, so a lot of guys doing good things.”

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