Creativity, depth powering Packers' pass rush

15 different defenders have recorded a sack for Green Bay this season

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GREEN BAY – Off the top of his head, Kenny Clark didn't know the exact number of Packers who have contributed to the defense's league-leading 31 sacks through the first nine games.

Pressed for his best guess, the Packers' third-year defensive tackle and burgeoning playmaker pondered his answer for a moment before thinking aloud.

"I know a couple DBs have some," said Clark before pausing. "Probably like 10 guys?"

Fifteen.

"Dang," replied Clark, whose five sacks are tied with Kyler Fackrell for the team high. "See. We're doing something there."

Call it depth. Call it the Mike Pettine effect. Call it young players stepping up when called upon. Whatever label thrown on it, the Packers are operating at a prodigious rate of multiplicity at the midway point of the season.

In fact, this season marks only the third time in a non-strike season the Packers have had 15 different defenders record at least a ½ sack in a season, along with 2010 and 2012. Green Bay never has had a year in which 16 players accomplished that feat.

To some extent, this should have been expected. Pettine's pressure packages have always been based on varied unpredictability and building the defense around the sum of its parts rather than counting on one prolific 15-sack performer.

The Packers tapped into their depth in Sunday's 31-12 win over Miami with six different rushers (Clark, Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert, Dean Lowry, Montravius Adams and Raven Greene) getting home against Dolphins quarterback Brock Osweiler.

In a few instances, it was a rusher simply beating his blocker to get to the quarterback. On others, Pettine dialed a blitz to get home like when Greene sacked Osweiler in the fourth quarter off an eight-man rush at the line of scrimmage.

"I feel like we were able to give the offense a few different looks," said Gilbert, who also had a fumble recovery to end Miami's first offensive possession. "I feel like we got them in downs where we knew they were going to pass the ball, so we did a good job of controlling the sticks. We were able to pin our ears back a little bit and get after him."

Pettine's propensity to mix up his blitz packages is reflected in the Packers' sack totals, which are spread across three primary position groups – linebackers (16½), defensive line (nine) and defensive backs (4½) with one additional team sack.

It has Green Bay tied with Kansas City, Minnesota and Pittsburgh for the league lead. Unlike those three teams, however, the Packers are getting it done absent a rusher with more than five sacks on the year.

Much like Pettine's past defenses, the Packers have built this year's unit around a multiple front. While Green Bay lost linchpin veteran Muhammad Wilkerson to a season-ending ankle injury in September, Clark, Mike Daniels and Dean Lowry have willingly done the heavy lifting in the trenches.

Clark, who has 9½ sacks in his last 14 games, has been a rock for the defense this season, evidenced by the sledgehammer in his locker. It's a weekly award the Packers' front seven bestows upon the most dominant player.

It's resided with Clark since Green Bay's 22-0 win over Buffalo in Week 4.

"It gets passed around," Clark said. "But the last time I got it was the Bills game and I just kept it."

The team mentality to generating pressure is a philosophy Pettine sold to his defenders shortly after he was hired in January. While Green Bay still believes it has work to do to provide more consistent pressure, the Packers need only seven more sacks to top last year's team total of 37.

The Packers know the challenge that lies ahead this Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks and mobile quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw for three touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards in Sunday's 36-31 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

"We've got some good guys on our front," Clark said. "Our defensive coordinator calls some plays and we're getting after guys. I think we're doing some good things on defense.

"We've just been hungry and trying to fight for opportunities to get after the passer. I'm not surprised by it, though, honestly. It's not like a big shock to me because I feel like we've got good players and I feel like we've got some guys that are hungry for opportunities that are trying to make plays."

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