The Packers defense ranks as the fifth best in the league statistically, but they become even stouter when opponents near the goal line.
"We want to make offenses go the hard way," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "We never want to give up seven points. That's precious territory there in the red zone. So we defend it at all costs."
The Packers have not allowed a touchdown during their opponents' last seven goal-to-go possessions. On Sunday the Detroit Lions had a first-and-goal at the Packers' 10-yard line or within twice during the first quarter and once during the fourth quarter. The Lions did not come away with a touchdown on any those of series, and the Packers held them the scoreless from one yard out during a game-changing sequence with 7:11 left in the game.
"Three different situations they had goal-to-go inside the four yard line, and they came away with six points," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "That's a pretty good day's work for the defense."
On goal-line and short yardage situations, the Packers use a five-man front with Kampman and Kenny Peterson at defensive end and Colin Cole, Grady Jackson and Cullen Jenkins on the interior. That quintet has excelled at staying low, beating the offensive line off the ball and penetrating into the backfield.
"That's the key," Cole said. "There's no science to it."
There is, however, a lot of teamwork involved. If the defenders do not play their gaps, the ballcarrier would find a seam and score a touchdown. Peterson analogizes the defense's cohesiveness to a balled fist.
"Fingers separated -- it's easier to break. Balled up -- you can't break it," Peterson said. "What a cliché -- but it's kind of right."
Although the entire defense deserves credit, two players in particular have helped the D come up strong with their backs against the wall. The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Peterson plays defensive tackle on most downs but has played defensive end in the NFL before. By moving him outside in goal-line situations, the Packers can employ someone with the stoutness to stone the run and the agility to stop bootlegs on the perimeter.
"He's done real well," Kampman said.
Jackson is another defensive lineman that serves a crucial a role in short-yardage situations. The 6-foot-2, 345-pounder specializes in stopping the run and plugging the interior of the line.
"He makes a huge difference for us," Kampman said. "Whenever you've got a guy with that much size and strength anchoring the middle, it all starts from the center."
During the fourth quarter goal-line stand of Sunday's game, Jackson collapsed the play, using good leverage to send center Dominic Raiola backward and complete an impressive series of downs for the defense. With a first-and-goal at the Packers' four-yard line, Lions running back Artose Pinner gained three yards. On the two successive plays, he gained zero yards. On fourth down quarterback Jeff Garcia attempted a sneak, and Jackson and the Packers stuffed him.
"That was the turning point in the ballgame," Sherman said.
Cole and Jackson both expected the Lions to pass on fourth down using a play-action fake or bootleg. But when the offensive line lined up, the guard and tackle pointed toward them and positioned themselves in low run-blocking stances.
"That was a little tip off," Cole said.
With so much success in the situations, the heads-up defense must relish the opportunity to mount goal line stands and thwart opponents from scoring.
"Nah. We'd just assume not let them get down there," Kampman said. "But if they're going to get down there, they're going to have a hard time getting in."