To develop the consistent ground attack that Head Coach Mike McCarthy wants for the Packers in 2006, cutting off the back-side pursuit on running plays needs to improve, McCarthy said Monday.
In the zone-blocking scheme installed by McCarthy and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, on every snap some of the linemen move in the direction of the play, or work "play-side." Others are responsible for blocking the defenders coming from behind, or the "back-side," by throwing a shoulder into their thigh to cut them to the ground.
In a perfect world, the running back hits a hole play-side and then either carries that as far as he can or cuts back to find a crease for more yardage. Sometimes, if defenses over-pursue on the play side, it's up to the running back to cut it back sooner and make them pay for their aggressiveness.
But the ball carrier can be in no-man's land if the back-side defenders aren't blocked. They can catch him from behind, or take away any cut-back lanes.
"We just need to do a better job of it," McCarthy said during his Monday news conference. "It's been emphasized since we put this run game in. It's a big part of it."
After the opener against Chicago, Jagodzinski noted that a few times a cut-back lane looked available on the back side but a potential big play was foiled by one back-side defender who wasn't taken out.
Against New Orleans, the play-side blocking struggled, but back-side defenders also played a big part in limiting the Packers to just 47 yards on 19 carries by running backs.
The most costly failure on the back side Sunday came in the fourth quarter right after New Orleans scored a touchdown to go ahead 27-20. On first down, Ahman Green took a handoff out to the right but was caught by the back-side pursuit of Charles Grant, who forced a fumble to set up another Saints TD.
McCarthy said the struggles with cut-blocking on the back-side may be related to inexperience in the scheme, but he believes it has more to do with technique than anything else.
"When you take one step and cut, it's not going to happen," he said. "When you take three steps and then cut, then it works. It's more confidence and the speed of it. We're plenty athletic enough inside to do it."
Center Scott Wells agreed.
"It's 100 percent technique," he said. "You get your feet and your head in the right place, you can take anybody down, no matter if they're planted or not.
"This week they were playing back off the ball, they weren't firing off the ball as much as we thought they would, so guys were cutting and they were falling short, or they were cutting and getting the back leg instead of the play-side leg. The key is to cut their play-side leg so they can't react, there's no way for them to wiggle out of the cut."
The Packers' best performance with the running game, and back-side blocks, came in the second preseason game against Atlanta. The Packers rushed 30 times for 126 yards (4.2 avg.) in that game but haven't developed consistency with the scheme yet.
"It's like any new offense - you're going to have some growing pains," McCarthy said. "I think the beauty of the system that Jeff has installed is that you're doing the same things over, over and over again. They're using the same techniques, same rubs and so forth as far as attacking the lineman. We're giving them similar looks as much as we can from a play-call perspective."
Jagodzinski remains confident it will come together, because he's seen everyone execute it. They just have to execute on the same play, at the same time, more often.
"We've got film of these guys doing it more than one time," he said. "If a guy can do it one time, he can do it all the time. It's just a matter of being consistent in how you do it."
Ups and downs
Second-year safety Nick Collins was the Packer defender primarily responsible for shadowing New Orleans rookie back Reggie Bush on Sunday, and he made some key tackles in holding Bush to just 73 yards from scrimmage.
But Collins didn't get to enjoy his solid play against the Heisman Trophy winner because he gave up two big plays in the passing game, a 33-yard completion to tight end Mark Campbell that set up New Orleans' first TD and a 35-yard TD catch by Marques Colston in the fourth quarter.
On both plays, Collins had good coverage but either lost his footing or got turned around and was unable to make a play on the ball as it arrived. Right now, it's those on-ball skills that Collins needs to focus on to take his game up another notch.
"He's fully capable of making those plays and was in position to make them," McCarthy said. "But I think Nick is definitely on the up-climb of having a Pro Bowl type career. He has that type of ability. He makes those two plays and I'm sitting here telling you he had a great game."
Good leg, good effort
Kicker Dave Rayner rebounded from missing his lone field-goal attempt in the season opener, a 53-yarder, by hitting from 24 and 36 yards in the first quarter Sunday.
He also had a strong day on kickoffs, hitting five of six into the end zone and getting three touchbacks.
"I thought he kicked with a lot of confidence," McCarthy said. "He slowed down. I think the kick he had against Chicago, he just rushed it. It's evident he has plenty of leg strength."
Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King selected Aaron Kampman as his "Defensive Player of the Week" in his online weekly Monday Morning QB column.
Kampman had four solo tackles, including three sacks, plus two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. His sack, strip and recovery on the game's opening series set up the first Packers touchdown.
"Sometimes great days get lost when teams get beat up on defense, but this one shouldn't," King wrote. "Kampman terrorized Drew Brees of the Saints. He was a monster in defeat."
Kampman now has four sacks in the season's first two games, tying the team record for sacks in the opening two contests of a season (since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic). Fellow defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had four sacks in the first two games of the 2001 season.
Another statistical note
Donald Driver's 15 receptions in the first two games ties him for the third-highest total in Packers' history through two games (since 1932, when the NFL began officially recording receptions).
The franchise high is 17 by Ken Payne in 1975. Robert Brooks had 16 in 1995, and Dorsey Levens also had 15 in 1998.
McCarthy said the injuries to come out of Sunday's game were for cornerback Al Harris (shoulder) and tight end David Martin (knee). He said he didn't think either injury was serious, and both players would be listed as questionable on Wednesday's injury report.