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Pass Rush Looks To Crank Up Again


The Packers want their sack attack back.

Prior to the team's current three-game losing streak, the Packers were producing the kind of consistent pass rush and sack totals that were making a difference in games.

Green Bay had 31 sacks through the season's first nine games, an average of roughly 31/2 per contest. The best stretch came from Weeks 7 through 10, when the Packers won three of four games and sacked quarterbacks from Miami, Arizona, Buffalo and Minnesota a combined 17 times.

Since then, the Packers have just three sacks in these last three games, and one of those was against New England's backup quarterback. The impact of the pass rush has dropped off considerably, and everyone has noticed.

"It definitely has," said defensive end Aaron Kampman, who leads the team with 10 sacks but none since Week 10 at Minnesota. "We've gotten some hits and things like that, but the sack total has gone down, and we need to get back at that."

The million dollar question is how.

In last Sunday's game against the New York Jets, the Packers were held without a sack for the first time all season, and the first time in 14 games overall dating back to Dec. 19, 2005 at Baltimore.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the lack of a pass rush against the Jets was that New York often used a straight five-man protection, meaning many times the defensive linemen and/or blitzing linebackers were one-on-one and simple didn't win their individual matchups.

"We can't forsake our technique, our hand placement, our footwork, just don't forget those things," defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila said. "Maybe we're so focused on trying to get there that we're not doing it the right way. We can't forget how we do it when we have success."

But fundamentals weren't the only factor.

"Some of it is one-on-one battles, some are situations caused by our run defense," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said.

"We're giving them often times too many yards on first down, so it's a short second down or a short third down. It's harder to rush on third and 2 or 3 (than) it is on third and 11 or third and 8 or 9, so a lot of it can be traced to giving up too many yards on first down. We need to do a better job on first down."

The statistics from the Jets game support that.

Not including goal-to-go situations, the Jets ran 19 first-down plays in the first half last Sunday, when they scored five times (one field goal, four touchdowns). They gained 5 yards or more on 12 of those 19 plays.

Down-and-distance situations often dictate when blitzes are appropriate, and though blitzes on first down are rare because it's often a toss-up whether a team will run or throw, that defense on first down sets up the potential calls for the rest of the series.

The fact that the Packers' run defense has struggled the past few games at the same time the pass rush has dropped off is no coincidence. The defense needs to put itself in situations where it can take an aggressive approach to pressuring the quarterback, but that process starts with defending the run.

"You stop the run, you make them one-dimensional and make them have to pass," defensive lineman Corey Williams said. "Teams have been successful running the ball on us, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you don't stop the run, you won't have a chance to rush the passer."

{sportsad300}The Packers are tinkering with ways to do both this week. Williams or Cullen Jenkins might be in line to play one defensive end spot on early run downs, which could have multiple effects. Their large frames - Williams is 313 pounds, Jenkins is 290 - could make the defense more stout against the run on the outside while not losing too much in the pass rush should the offense run play-action.

In addition, any extra rest given to regular starting end Gbaja-Biamila might make him more fresh to get after the quarterback on obvious passing downs, while rookie Jason Hunter may get a chance in pass rush situations as well.

A stronger run defense also could hopefully produce better down-and-distance situations for the defense to turn loose more blitzers.

But all that sounds great in theory. The players know it still comes down to them to put the theory into practice on game day.

"What can we do in particular? Just keep working, keep doing the things we've done," Kampman said. "I know that's not real spicy or anything like that, but that's really what it comes down to. Continuing to work on fundamentals and knowing the situations when we can really pin our ears back and go."

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