Defense Gives Performance To Build On

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Not one player on the Packers' defense is going to be excessively proud of the unit's Week 5 performance against the St. Louis Rams because they know they still have plenty to improve upon.

But a breakdown of the effort last Sunday shows that considerable progress was made by a defense trying to work its way up from near the bottom of the early-season rankings.

The Packers gave up a season-low 327 yards, including only one drive longer than 50 yards, reduced their big-play problems and kept the Rams out of the end zone the entire second half.

All of that gives the Packers something to build on heading into the bye week and a challenging stretch of three road games in four weeks beginning Oct. 22 in Miami.

"It was definitely one of our best games as far as emotion, the passion the guys played with," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said. "I thought we played physical, thought we played tough. I thought we flew around, we gang-tackled on a good back. We still gave up some big plays, some situations we hope to eliminate, but from effort, emotion, passion, the things you like to see in a football team, we definitely came out and played hard. I hope we play hard every week."

Here's a quick look at some of the areas that point to the defense's improvement:

Gang-tackling

It may be a minor statistical anomaly, but the defensive stat sheet from the Rams game indicated the Packers had a season-high 25 assists on tackles, compared to just two the week before in Philadelphia, or six in Week 2 against New Orleans.

It's not a tell-all number, but a larger number of assists does indicate that more defenders were in position to make tackles against the Rams than in previous games, and not as many plays came down to a defender needing to make a solo stop.

"It might be the kind of offense we're seeing or how many runs we're seeing, so there's a lot of factors that go into it," Sanders said. "But certainly if there's more assists, then certainly more guys are getting around the ball and getting a piece of it, and that's what you want.

"Every segment had good chase on the ball, good angles, those type of things, so hopefully it will continue."

Tough in the red zone

Both times the Rams got into the red zone in the first half, they scored touchdowns. But because of a turnover and missed field goal by the Packers, those two TD drives both started on Green Bay's half of the field.

In the second half, though, the Rams started two drives in Green Bay territory and reached the red zone but were held to field goals. The Rams' only long scoring drive also came in the second half and reached the 2-yard line, but again the defense stiffened and forced a field goal.

"A lot of it is attitude," defensive end Aaron Kampman said of getting tough in the red zone. "We bent a few times, but the idea is, you can't break. You don't want to get down there, but if you do get down there, you can't let them break that goal line. That's a precious commodity there that you don't want to let anyone in.

"Obviously we've let people in too much this year and we're working to get those numbers down. But that's a step in the right direction."

The red zone stops in the second half came in a variety of ways. Kampman recorded a sack on third-and-goal from the 7, nickelback Patrick Dendy covered Kevin Curtis well on third-and-4 from the 8 to force an incompletion, and two big plays against the run from the 1-yard line on a Steven Jackson run and Marc Bulger bootleg kept the Rams out of the end zone when they had a chance essentially to seal the game.

"When we play in the red zone, it's kind of like we smell blood and we're desperate. We play fast and hard out there," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "I think we just need to take that on when they've got the ball on the other side of the field."

Limiting big plays

The Packers had their best game in terms of limiting the opponent's explosive gains, which the coaching staff defines as runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards or longer.

The Rams had just one explosive gain in the first half, a 12-yard scramble by Bulger. The defense surrendered seven explosive plays in the second half, including six in the passing game, which is far too many for just one half of play.

"Our goal was to be five or less, and no touchdowns," Sanders said.

The latter was accomplished after the Packers had surrendered two explosive plays for TDs in each of the last three games.

That was probably the biggest reason the defense did so well in the red zone, because it wasn't giving up big-play touchdowns and giving itself a better chance to get the stop.

Better gang-tackling also factored into the reduced number of big plays as well.

"Everything in football correlates," Kampman said. "If you want to talk about the rush, you have to talk about the coverage. Everything fits together."

The missing ingredient

The one glaring omission from Sunday's effort was that the defense didn't get a turnover.

"If we had some turnovers, that probably would have been our best game," Pickett said. "I think we played better."

The lack of turnovers wasn't for lack of opportunity, though. Three times defenders had potential interceptions in their hands, only to be unable to hang on. A.J. Hawk was in perfect position covering a tight end over the middle and Charles Woodson nearly made a difficult diving pick in the fourth quarter.

Al Harris had the best chance to make a game-changing play, but a Bulger pass that Harris might have been able to return the distance bounced off his hands.

"All those guys were in great position, they were in the position they were supposed to be in, in the coverage we were in, and had a chance to make a play and it just didn't go our way," Sanders said. "So hopefully next time they will. There were good opportunities."

A turnover may have been the one thing that could have swung Sunday's game Green Bay's way. The Packers committed two, a fumble that led to a Rams touchdown and another fumble that killed the chance for a game-tying field goal or game-winning touchdown. In short, those turnovers accounted for either 10 or 14 points in a game the Packers lost by three.

"Turnovers are the best way to help your team win the game," Sanders said.

"At the beginning of the New Orleans game, we got them. We were in position to get these, and didn't. So we just have to make them. We have to stay in position and when the opportune time comes, be ready to make a play and make it.

"There are no excuses."

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