Protecting the quarterback is a priority every week, but the Packers have put in some extra preparation in that regard this week.
The St. Louis Rams under second-year defensive coordinator Jim Haslett are becoming known for some exotic blitz packages that pressure the quarterback from all angles.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy knows Haslett well, having worked as his offensive coordinator in New Orleans when Haslett was the head coach, and he expects his former boss to maintain his aggressive approach to defense.
"He believes in pressure," McCarthy said. "I think he would ideally like to be a 3-4 (defense) and play the way he played when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I think that's his blueprint for success. He's blitzing at a very high rate, particularly the last 4-5 games. He's going to challenge us, and I wouldn't expect anything less from Jim."
The Rams have racked up 27 sacks this season through 13 games, not an alarming number by any means. But as the defenders have gotten more and more accustomed to Haslett's scheme over his first two seasons in St. Louis, they're cranking up the pressure of late and getting results.
In a recent three-game stretch (Weeks 11-13), the Rams posted 13 of their 27 sacks on the season. They had four against San Francisco on Nov. 18, five against Seattle on Nov. 25 and four against Atlanta on Dec. 2. The Rams won two of those three games, and the loss to the Seahawks came when quarterback Gus Frerotte fumbled the snap on fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the final minute.
Facing frequent blitzes places a lot of responsibility on quarterback Brett Favre and center Scott Wells to recognize the pressure packages and make the right protection calls at the line of scrimmage. Wells said one key is being patient enough to get them to "show" their blitz and then react accordingly.
"Film study has been huge, trying to anticipate what they're going to do with the personnel they have," Wells said. "Other than that, make a call and stick to it. As long as we're on the same page, we're OK."
Though it's probably not a good idea to take a lot of chances against a blitzing team, playing conservatively isn't necessarily the way to go, either.
"If you stay aggressive and you hit them while they're running one of their funky blitzes, you have opportunities for big plays," Wells said. "You can gash them. They like to overload and blitz, and they'll have guys out of position because of how many different stunts they run, how many different types of defenses they run. So if you're able to call the right offense into it, there's huge opportunities there. They live and die by their scheme."
Kampman, Franks questionable
Defensive end Aaron Kampman began having back spasms early in practice on Thursday, did not practice at all on Friday, and is listed as questionable for the game.
But McCarthy said the medical staff has told him the back problem should be resolved by Sunday.
"He'll get treatment all the way up to the game, and we anticipate him to play," McCarthy said. He added that if it's determined Kampman's health for the playoffs would be at risk by playing, he would rest, but at this point that doesn't seem to be the case.
Tight end Bubba Franks also is questionable, and it appears he has less chance of playing than Kampman. Franks hasn't played since injuring his knee against Washington on Oct. 14, and earlier this week it was looking like Franks was on track to return. But the knee hasn't responded well to some more extensive practicing, and Franks may have to sit out again.
"Bubba is just not all the way back," McCarthy said. "I really don't know how else to better describe it. I know Wednesday he felt very good going into the practice and then went downhill a little bit yesterday. He just cannot get over the last hurdle right now, and like I've said before, we're not going to put someone out there that's not healthy."
Five players on the injury report are listed as probable and are expected to play - offensive tackles Chad Clifton (shoulder) and Mark Tauscher (ankle), guard Junius Coston (ankle), and cornerbacks Al Harris (heel) and Charles Woodson (toe).
Receiver Koren Robinson (knee) was removed from the injury report and will play, while backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers (hamstring) is doubtful and likely will be the No. 3 quarterback with Craig Nall serving as Favre's backup again this week.
Cornerback Jarrett Bush (calf) and linebacker Tracy White (ankle) are also doubtful.
The defense has been rotating all four backup cornerbacks in the nickel and dime defenses, and with Bush unlikely to play, that means Frank Walker, Tramon Williams and Will Blackmon should get more snaps.
McCarthy said all of them would play again this week as the competition for the top backup corner spots continues.
"It forces you to have to perform right now," Walker said of the in-game rotation. "It kind of keeps everybody on their toes. You don't have time to get relaxed or anything like that."
Picking up the slack
White, who has been a key performer on special teams in his two seasons in Green Bay, is still battling his ankle injury originally sustained against Minnesota on Nov. 11.
Since then, White missed the Carolina game, played at Detroit and at Dallas, and then missed last week's game against Oakland. He's unlikely to play again this week.
White led the Packers in special-teams tackles with 17 last year, and in the two games he's missed this season, various players have picked up the slack.
Against Carolina on Nov. 18, Bush and backup tight end Ryan Krause combined for five special-teams tackles. Then last week, fullback Korey Hall posted five special-teams stops himself.
"I just think our core players as a whole have been a lot more consistent than we were last year," McCarthy said. "We're getting a lot more productivity out of our core players and what's nice, and competition breeds this, the particular players that may have been inactive one week are out there competing for those spots. So it's kept the special teams a very competitive situation."