Packers Shutting Down Top Wideouts


CB Charles Woodson matches up with Colts WR Reggie Wayne in the Week 7 contest at Lambeau Field. Wayne was held to just two catches for 24 yards.

The Green Bay Packers' secondary has garnered a lot of attention this season, and rightly so, for its league-leading 16 interceptions, six of which have been returned for touchdowns.

But nearly as important statistically to the pass defense's success has been the secondary's ability to render as non-factors several top receivers from the opposing teams.

In seven of nine games this season, the opponent's No. 1 receiver has had little to no impact on the game, and that's as big a reason as any for Green Bay's No. 3 league ranking in passing yards allowed.

"There are some quality people in this league in the receiving department," secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer said. "It's a challenge and our guys meet the challenge, but we recognize the skills they present as well."

The only two receivers to have big games against the Packers this season have been Detroit's Calvin Johnson (six catches, 129 yards, two TDs in Week 2) and Atlanta's Roddy White (eight catches, 132 yards, one TD in Week 5), and even White was shut out in the second half.

Last Sunday's game in Minnesota continued the positive trend for the Green Bay secondary, as the Vikings' Bernard Berrian - who had topped 100 yards in three of his previous four contests - didn't catch a single pass. And Berrian had just three catches for 38 yards against the Packers in the season opener.

The secondary also has blanked Seattle's Bobby Engram and held two of the premier receivers in the league in Dallas' Terrell Owens and Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne to just two catches apiece. Owens had 17 yards in Week 3, and Wayne had 24 yards in Week 7.

Other top receivers on opposing clubs to face the Packers are Tampa Bay's Antonio Bryant (four catches, 38 yards) and Tennessee's Brandon Jones (four catches, 36 yards).

That's a total of just 15 catches for 154 yards with no touchdowns by the opponent's top receiver in those seven of nine contests. Even including Johnson's and White's performances, the 29 catches for 415 yards comes out to an average of 3.2 receptions and 46.1 yards per game by the opponent's No. 1 guy.

"It's all a combination of the pass rush, the linebackers and the defensive backs, all playing with the right techniques and the right leverages," Schottenheimer said.

It certainly has been a team effort, moreso perhaps than in the past. Cornerback Al Harris has generally drawn the assignment of the opponent's No. 1 receiver and fared well. But Harris missed 41/2 games this season with a lacerated spleen, so Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams have matched up against the top threats plenty this season. Third-year pro Will Blackmon was thrown into more significant duty with Harris out of the lineup as well.

Add to that the substitutions made at safety - Aaron Rouse started four games and Charlie Peprah one while Atari Bigby was out with a hamstring injury - and the unit as a whole has shown its ability to communicate and adjust on a weekly basis as needed.

"These guys have been together a few years now," Schottenheimer said. "Most of them have been here three years, two in some cases. But they really communicate well together and they're able to put themselves in the best adjustments and best coverages they need to have.

"I don't think there's any of our guys we have a concern about putting in there as a replacement and still working and executing the defense we'd like to play. We're not having to make adjustments and try to go in a different direction, or that sort of thing."

{sportsad300}The development of the young players in the secondary, particularly Williams, Blackmon, Rouse and safety Nick Collins, has been the key to not missing a beat when someone goes down. Williams picked off a pass in three of his four starts in place of Harris, while Collins is tied with Woodson for the league lead with five interceptions and has returned three for scores.

"From the time they got here - Will's progress was held back by a couple of injuries - but that whole group, they've all gotten better," Schottenheimer said. "They have great work habits. The No. 1 thing is they have talent and skill, and because they work so hard, they'll just continue to get better."

With the secondary playing so well, the priority for the Packers defensively is to improve the run defense over the season's final seven games. If they can do that without sacrificing the strong pass defense, it would pay huge dividends in the push to win the NFC North and make the playoffs.

But the secondary still has plenty of challenges ahead in terms of top wideouts. New Orleans' Devery Henderson, Carolina's Steve Smith, Houston's Andre Johnson (the NFL leader in receiving yards) and Jacksonville's Matt Jones - plus another matchup with Detroit's Johnson - all await the Packers over the season's final weeks.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content