Notebook: Discipline Needed In Run Defense

The Packers’ run defense struggles have been no secret, and after watching the film of Sunday’s Atlanta game, when an opponent rushed for better than 175 yards for the third straight week, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said too many players are taking it upon themselves to stop the run, and the run defense needs to get back to working as a unit. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Oct. 6


The Packers' run defense struggles have been no secret, and after watching the film of Sunday's Atlanta game, when an opponent rushed for better than 175 yards for the third straight week, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said too many players are taking it upon themselves to stop the run.

As a consequence, the scheme is repeatedly breaking down, and the run defense needs to get back to working as a unit.

"A number of times -- it's almost like we took turns doing it -- was guys trying to do too much," McCarthy said. "I think that's something you try to guard against, you try to practice against.

"Run defense is all about gap control, the proper technique and playing to the guy next to you. And the way we're situated and organized on defense, it's very evident when something goes wrong, (it's) someone not being in their gap. We had it a number of times where the defender had his head in the right gap, he has his gap in control, and then he pulls out trying to make the play. We need to get that cleaned up."

The statistics bear that out, in that it's not as though the defense is getting gashed on every run. Atlanta's Michael Turner, the league's leading rusher, was held to 3 yards or less on 13 runs Sunday, exactly half of his 26 carries (not including his 2-yard TD). Those 13 runs produced just 14 yards, so there are plenty of plays for which the gap control and the scheme work the way they're supposed to.

But Turner had 107 yards and a score on his other 13 runs, giving him a hefty per-game average of 4.7 that certainly wears out a defense and allows a top back to take over down the stretch, as he did with three straight runs for the TD after Atlanta's late interception, and then three straight runs for a first down to seal the game in the final two minutes.

It's those other 13 runs, where Turner had gains of 22, 14 and 12 on three of them, that McCarthy is talking about where a defender steps out of the scheme to try for a big-impact play and it works against the unit as a whole.

"Everybody has a gap, everybody has a key, and you have to stick your head in the gap and play with leverage, and it bounces to the free hat," McCarthy said. "That's the way we're situated.

"I look at the defense as thermostat in a football game. They need to keep the game in order, and it starts with stopping the run, and we're not doing a very good job of it. They know it, and we take the realistic approach. We're going to coach them hard and grade the film, just like we always have, and we need to get it fixed. Sometimes as a coach you can over-emphasize things, you can over-coach things. I think, not taking the responsibility away from the players, but we have guys who are just trying to do too much, and that's the facts."

Rodgers expected to continue playing

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be held out of practice at least on Wednesday and might return to practice on Thursday on a limited basis. But McCarthy said Rodgers is in better shape with his sprained shoulder this week than he was after initially injuring it last week in Tampa Bay, and that he's planning on Rodgers playing this week in Seattle.

"It's just important for today, tomorrow and Wednesday to rehab, try to get in front of it," McCarthy said of the sore shoulder. "Just try to keep the throws as limited as we possibly can over the course of the week. That's why giving him three days is the best option. Then we'll see where we are Thursday."

McCarthy said that last week he didn't feel all that confident Rodgers would be available based on where he was in his rehab last Friday, but he went into Sunday morning's workout with an open mind and saw that Rodgers could make the throws he needed to. The fact that Rodgers threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns spoke volumes about both his skills, having not practiced all week, and his toughness, playing through the pain.

"He was in a lot of pain," McCarthy said. "For him to go out and throw the ball the way he did and play the way he did is a tribute to him, and he definitely played big in the game. Very impressed with it."

Penalties frustrating

The Packers' nine penalties for 97 yards on Sunday kept the team second in the league in number of penalties accepted (44) and first in yards assessed (419). In all, the Packers have had 52 penalties called against them, tied for tops in the league, with eight declined.

{sportsad300}McCarthy has stated in the past that he's willing to accept some penalties on his defensive backs because of the defense's bump-and-run press coverage, and he did mention that rookie Pat Lee wasn't downgraded for the questionable pass interference call on him in the second quarter.

But of particular concern are the holding penalties. The Packers have had eight offensive holding penalties marched off against them through five games, plus a handful more on special teams. On Sunday, there were three offensive holding calls (one was declined) and two on special teams.

Most of those are penalties the players can avoid, McCarthy said, by avoiding sloppy technique.

"I'm promoting physical, tough football play, but it definitely has to involve good judgment," McCarthy said. "When you have holding where the defender is spinning away from you and you still have cloth and it's extended, that's not good judgment."

Injury update

Offensive tackle Chad Clifton's hamstring strain from Sunday's game likely will keep him out of practice a good portion of the week. McCarthy said that the offensive staff hasn't decided yet what lineup it will use should Clifton not be available. Daryn Colledge shifted over to Clifton's spot at left tackle and Allen Barbre came in at left guard. Another option could be putting rookie Josh Sitton in at right guard and moving Jason Spitz to left guard.

Defensive end Michael Montgomery's ankle sprain was requiring additional tests, so his availability this week isn't known. Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett has some tendonitis in his knee and could miss some practice time.

Receiver Donald Driver also was diagnosed with a bruised thumb from getting his hand stepped on.

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