Game Notes: Takeaways Keep Coming For Defense

Green Bay’s defense got off to a fast start last week with four takeaways in their preseason opener against Cleveland, but it was able to match that number in the first half on Saturday night in the Packers’ 31-21 win over Buffalo. - More Packers-Bills Game Center

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LB Brady Poppinga snags an interception off a deflected pass in the first quarter on Saturday night.

Green Bay's defense got off to a fast start last week with four takeaways in their preseason opener against Cleveland, but it was able to match that number in the first half on Saturday night in the Packers' 31-21 win over Buffalo.

The Packers finished the evening with five total takeaways, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries to give them nine takeaways to just three giveaways through two preseason games.

"It's the most critical stat in football, giveaways and takeaways," linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "I think we've got now, what (nine) in two games? That's a good number. If you get three or more in a game, you've got a 78 percent-something chance of winning the football game.

"So, what does that say? We're in a good place. We want to keep them getting them. They're funny; sometimes they come in bunches, so hopefully it will be a season where they continue to come in bunches."

The defense didn't waste any time Saturday night getting on the board with a turnover as safety Nick Collins got a piece of quarterback Trent Edwards' pass intended for wide receiver Lee Evans on the fifth play of the Bills' first possession. Collins deflected the ball into the arms of linebacker Brady Poppinga at the Buffalo 45, who then returned it eight yards.

On Buffalo's next series, the defense struck again, this time setting up the offense with even better field position. On a 3rd-and-15 from the Buffalo 12, defensive end Johnny Jolly sacked Edwards and forced a fumble, and linebacker A.J. Hawk scooped up the ball at the Bills' 5-yard line. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers found wide receiver Greg Jennings on a quick slant the next play to put Green Bay up 7-0.

"We have made some progress but we are at the beginning stages of this process," Poppinga said. "It's just a matter of continuing to get better and continuing to refine ourselves as a defense, but it's something to be encouraged about."

Poppinga was in on Green Bay's next takeaway early in the second quarter, recovering running back Fred Jackson's fumble that was forced by defensive end Cullen Jenkins at Buffalo's 41, once again providing a short field for the offense that led to the third touchdown of the night.

"We've got a lot of ball hawkers on our team, and this defense is an aggressive, ball-hawking defense," Poppinga said. "I think it's just more reflective of the style of defense we play.

"Right now, every preseason game, we're just putting in basic stuff. Our defense is only limited to the mind of the coach, his creative mind of thinking up schemes. It's pretty much an open book as to what we can do and how we can attack offenses."

Rookie linebacker Brad Jones got into the act late in the first half, forcing a fumble by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that was recovered by linebacker Desmond Bishop. Bishop added the fifth and final takeaway of the night when he intercepted Fitzpatrick's pass intended for running back Dominic Rhodes on a 4th-and-2 at Green Bay's 21 midway through the third quarter.

"Offenses can't predict what we are going to do, whether we are going to blitz inside, outside, drop back in zone or man," said Bishop, who now has two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the two preseason games. "So it gives the offense fits."

First time

Rookie defensive end B.J. Raji, who signed with the team last Friday, made his NFL debut Saturday night, entering the game on the defense's third series of the night.

"I thought he had some penetration, live legs," said Head Coach Mike McCarthy. "I think he's going to be an exciting young player for us. He broke contain on that one quarterback scramble that I saw was his. But other than that, I thought it was a good start for him. I'm going to have to watch the film to give you a more accurate evaluation."

Raji estimated that he took about 12 snaps, lining up at both left defensive end and as one of two down linemen when the Packers were in nickel.

"I think it went pretty well, as best as I could," said Raji. "Obviously I didn't play perfect, but we'll see when the film gets turned on on Monday.

"It was a great time. Obviously I would have liked to play a little bit more plays. It's a big step from not playing any, so hopefully next week I'll get some more reps."

More snaps

The Packers changed up their quarterback rotation on Saturday night with No. 3 quarterback Brian Brohm entering the game in the second quarter in relief of starter Aaron Rodgers.

Matt Flynn served as the No. 2 quarterback throughout 2008 and has worked there again this preseason, but McCarthy said the team just wanted to get a good look at Brohm.

Brohm was able to get some work with most of the starting offensive line, with only left tackle Chad Clifton leaving the game when Rodgers left for the night.

Brohm moved the offense down the field toward the end of the first half, connecting with wide receiver Jordy Nelson on passes of 10 and 13 yards and also picking up 34 yards on an attempt to wideout James Jones that drew a pass interference penalty on defensive back Ellis Lankster. But two plays later, Brohm overthrew Nelson at Buffalo's 9 and was picked off by cornerback Reggie Corner.

"I tried to force it in there a little bit," said Brohm, who finished the night 12-of-19 for 83 yards with the one interception. "Jordy was covered kind of tight. I tried to make the perfect throw, trying to put some extra steam on it, and the ball kind of sailed on me a little bit."

Flynn entered the game late in the third quarter, but sustained a shoulder injury when he was sacked by defensive end Copeland Bryan early in the fourth quarter. Brohm came back in to close out the game and helped the offense down the field for a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a Tyrell Sutton 3-yard TD run for Green Bay's final score.

"I have to look at the film," McCarthy said. "The production part of it, he didn't have the production you are looking for until the last drive. I thought that was big for him to go out there and lead that. He did a good job with the run game adjustments as far as which side to run the ball and also throwing the quick slant when it was there."

Mixing it up

For the second straight week the Packers employed a rotation at the center and right guard spots, with Jason Spitz opening at center and Josh Sitton starting at right guard on Saturday night.

Last week Scott Wells got the opening nod at center with Spitz at right guard, and those three have rotated with the rest of the No. 1 offense in both games. Allen Barbre got the start at right tackle for the second straight game, but Breno Giacomini also saw significant time there with the first line on Saturday night. For the second straight game, Rodgers was not sacked.

"I think they have played well, especially the ones," said running back Ryan Grant, who posted 43 yards and a score on 10 carries. "They have started fast and it starts with them. They have taken that approach and they know that we want to play downhill and they want to be physical. We want to be the most physical team on the field, week in and week out. They have displayed that."

{sportsad300}McCarthy has talked about his desire to settle on five players soon to develop some continuity on the line after injuries forced the team to use several different combinations on the line last season.

"I'm hopeful the film will give me that option or a strong opinion one way or the other," McCarthy said. "That's something definitely we'll take a close look at (Sunday) as a staff and I am hopeful that would happen, but I'm not making any guarantees. We'll get as much information as we can and hopefully we can make a good decision."

All the reps

The Packers planned to give punter Durant Brooks the bulk of the work on Saturday night, but after he aggravated a hip flexor injury Thursday night, Jeremy Kapinos handled those duties against the Bills.

Kapinos punted five times for a 43.4-yard average with a net average of 43.2, and put two kicks inside the 20-yard line.

His best punt of the night came midway through the third quarter when he was backed up near Green Bay's goal line. Kapinos posted a game-long 49-yarder with good hang time that was covered well by fullback John Kuhn at Buffalo's 40 for just a one-yard gain by running back Bruce Hall.

Injury/participation update

Brooks, cornerback Pat Lee (back), safeties Charlie Peprah (knee) and Aaron Rouse (hamstring), linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring), Jeremy Thompson (stinger), and Nick Barnett (knee), and defensive end Justin Harrell (back) did not dress for Saturday night's game.

McCarthy said Flynn suffered a shoulder sprain, describing the injury as more "muscular". Flynn said he was sore, but didn't believe the injury was serious.

Tight end Devin Frischknecht appeared to suffer a serious leg injury midway through the third quarter on a reception. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and went to a local hospital, but there was no further update on his status after the game.

Collins sustained a rib injury but McCarthy said after the game that X-rays were negative.

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