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Notebook: Big Plays Coming From All Angles On Defense

A shutout on defense is always the ultimate goal, but something even more encouraging for the Packers’ new 3-4 defense may have come out of the blanking of Detroit last Sunday. Players at all levels of the defense - the front line, the linebackers, and the secondary - had a hand in the numerous big plays. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Oct. 22


S Nick Collins brings down Detroit RB Kevin Smith for a 3-yard loss on the opening play of the second half on Sunday.

A shutout on defense is always the ultimate goal, but something even more encouraging for the Packers' new 3-4 defense may have come out of the blanking of Detroit last Sunday.

Granted, the effort came against an undermanned Lions team that was missing its starting quarterback in Matthew Stafford and No. 1 receiver in Calvin Johnson. But in racking up multiple interceptions, sacks and other tackles for loss, the Packers showed an element to their defense that they hope continues from here on out - they got nearly everybody involved.

Players at all levels of the defense - the front line, the linebackers, and the secondary - had a hand in the numerous big plays. In fact, in the 13 high-impact plays (three interceptions, five sacks, five other TFLs), no less than 10 different players were involved, a sharing of the wealth on defense that shows the unit is progressing the way defensive coordinator Dom Capers envisioned.

"When you have playmakers at all three levels of your defense, it makes it harder for people to prepare for you," Capers said. "I told the guys it's not about where we are right now, but it's always about focusing on where we're heading. I've felt pretty good about segments of our defense, where we're heading."

After a rough game defensively against Cincinnati in Week 2, when cornerback Charles Woodson posted two big interceptions but not much else went right, some progress began in Week 3 with the pass defense as the Packers shut down the St. Louis passing attack in three of four quarters.

Then the run defense showed some teeth in Week 4 at Minnesota, holding star halfback Adrian Peterson to just 55 yards on 22 carries.

The segments came together in the Detroit game, holding the Lions to just 78 yards rushing and backup quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton to an abysmal cumulative 16.7 passer rating.

Key to that lockdown effort were the baker's dozen of big plays turned in by a host of defenders. Up front, end Cullen Jenkins got his first career interception, reminiscent of the one fellow defensive end Johnny Jolly got in the season opener against Chicago, while Jolly and B.J. Raji also got in on tackles for loss.

At the linebacker level, Clay Matthews had two sacks plus another TFL, Aaron Kampman and Nick Barnett each posted a sack, and Spencer Havner snuffed out a fake punt.

In the secondary, cornerback Al Harris posted both a sack and an interception, safety Atari Bigby got an interception in his first game back after missing three contests due to injury, and safety Nick Collins also had a tackle in the backfield.

It's no wonder Head Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that everyone on defense graded out with a winning performance, which he admitted is very rare.

"I thought as a defense we clearly played the most sound game plan all season, and that's what you are looking for," McCarthy said. "Because when everything is in tune like that and everybody is where they are supposed to be and doing the things they are supposed and it's clean like that, it gives you the opportunity for a lot of productivity."

Again, all that productivity came against a Detroit offense sorely missing its top playmakers. But it was by far the most complete effort on defense since the season opener against the Bears, when the defense got two sacks and four interceptions while holding Chicago to just one touchdown. In that game, the element of surprise in unveiling the 3-4 clearly worked to Green Bay's advantage against a division foe.

With five regular-season games of film for opponents to watch, the surprise factor is greatly diminished if not eliminated. Which makes the big plays from all the different positions that much more promising.

"I felt better (Sunday) about the overall play, about being able to stop the run, get pressure and get takeaways," Capers said. "It showed up more with the sacks (Sunday), but I thought we had good consistent pressure for most of the day.

"We want to make it easy for us, hard for them. That's as simple as you can put it."

A lesser role

One player who didn't share in the defense's barrage of big plays on Sunday was inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, who for the second straight game played very limited snaps in the base defense.

With Barnett and Brandon Chillar entrenched as the two inside linebackers in the nickel package, Hawk is playing only in base, an alignment the defense used very little against Minnesota and Detroit.

Naturally, Hawk would like to be on the field more, but he's doing his best to remain a team player and simply make the most of the snaps he does get.

"No, I'm not frustrated," Hawk said. "It's just something where I'm going to make sure I do everything I can to stay positive, and when I do get a chance, when I'm out on the field for however many reps that is, to make sure I can do some good things. I'm not going to let it affect the way I approach the game or the way I prepare or anything."

Currently, Hawk ranks eighth on the team with 21 tackles (15 solo), which is far off his usual pace of 135 tackles per season in his first three years. He also doesn't have a sack this season, and he hasn't been involved in a turnover play since midway through the 2007 season.

"We have a lot of good players here, a lot of good linebackers," Hawk said. "We have certain ways we're trying to match people up, and some weeks I definitely play more than others, so I just have to make sure I'm ready when I'm in there."

Injury/participation update

The Packers added receiver Greg Jennings (hip) and Chillar (neck) to the injury report on Thursday as limited participants. McCarthy didn't sound particularly concerned with either situation. Jennings' hip "flared up on him" and was held out of the full-pads practice, while Chillar had a spasm in his neck/shoulder area during Thursday's workout.

{sportsad300}Also, fullback Quinn Johnson (ankle) was a full participant on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's workout.

The rest of Green Bay's injury report remained the same as Wednesday, with tackle Chad Clifton (ankle), center/guard Jason Spitz (back) and defensive end Jarius Wynn (hamstring) sitting out. Raji (ankle) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (foot) were full participants, while tackle Mark Tauscher (knee) was limited. Fullback Korey Hall (calf) and receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) are out this week.

Rookie T.J. Lang took all the snaps at left tackle in Clifton's place, but McCarthy still did not rule out Clifton for Sunday's game. He said the medical staff will determine if Clifton can practice on Friday, and if he can and prove he's ready, McCarthy said he'll play.

Tauscher has participated in team (11-on-11) drills during the last two days of practice, but McCarthy indicated it would "be a stretch" for him to be active on Sunday in Cleveland.

For the Browns, two of the 11 players who missed Wednesday's practice with flu-like symptoms - defensive lineman Shaun Rogers and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley - returned to practice as limited participants. The other nine sick players sat out again.

The only other change on Cleveland's report was that receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs (knee), who did not practice on Wednesday, was a limited participant on Thursday.

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