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Run Defense Will Tell The Tale


Over the past two weeks, the Green Bay Packers have rebounded from a dismal 1-4 start and leapt back into contention for a potential return to postseason play for the fourth consecutive season as they stand at 3-4.

It goes without saying that a large factor in the 38-10 and 41-20 wins at Detroit and at home against Dallas, respectively, has been a surging offensive attack.

What has gone somewhat unnoticed in the two-game winning streak, though, has been a much-improved run defense.

Five games into the season, the Packers defense was giving up an average of 149.8 rushing yards per game, was practically at the bottom of the NFL rankings in rush defense, and was coming off a shocking performance which saw the Tennessee Titans run for 224 yards and three touchdowns at Lambeau Field.

In the past two games, however, that same Packers defense (or was it?) allowed a total of 99 yards on the ground (33 to the Lions and 66 to the Cowboys) to cut their yards per game allowed down to 121.1 and a 21st league ranking.

After impressive back-to-back showings, and buoyed last Sunday's return of nose tackles Grady Jackson and James Lee to help shore up the defensive line, the Packers will face a stern test this weekend as they head to the nation's capital to face Clinton Portis and the Washington Redskins.

Portis, coming off of a bye week and a 171-yard performance against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, ranks third in the NFC with 593 rushing yards in his first season with the 'Skins.

Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman knows that stopping the shifty third-year running back will play a large part in his team picking up a third straight victory.

"Obviously, Portis is an exceptional back and at any moment, he can break a long run," Sherman said. "It's going to take all 11 guys to stop their running game. You can't have people late, not recognizing what they're doing from a run standpoint.

"They do a nice job with play-pass off of their runs. Earlier in the year, they looked like they were a gap-scheme team, but now they're running a little bit more where he has an opportunity to cut things back. It's going to take 11 guys. It's more of an attitude than anything to stop their run. We've got to swarm the football."

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett knows that he and his teammates will have to be ready to stop the run every time the ball is snapped.

"We approach the game as if we make one mistake, he can take it to the house," Barnett said of Portis. "He's definitely capable of that. He's got great speed, great vision - he'll cut it back, and the next thing you know, you're chasing him down the field. We've got to be on our Ps and Qs and just hit our gaps and handle our responsibilities.

Barnett said that the Packer defenders must be disciplined in their assignments and bring Portis down when they have him within reach.

"It's not so much over-pursuing, it's just to stay in your gap," the linebacker said. "If you get out of your gap, he can cut back and there you go."

One statistic that could be the magic number in determining whether or not the Packers can leave D.C. with a 4-4 record is if they are capable of holding Portis under 100 yards Sunday. This season in the NFL, teams that have featured a 100-yard rusher hold a record of 52-14 (.788 winning percentage).

When Portis goes over the century mark, the Redskins are 2-0. Washington has lost all four games in which the former University of Miami runner has failed to reach 100. In Green Bay's four defeats this season, three times have they allowed a back to break for more than 100 yards.

In keeping both opponents far from that landmark number the past two weeks, the Packers have cruised to big wins.

Linebacker Na'il Diggs said that the defense is not about to rest on its laurels though.

"Even though we may feel good about what we're doing lately, we still can't let up or relax," he said.

It appears that a win for the Packers will have to follow a rather simple formula, especially if their offense continues to produce the way it has lately.

Jackson gave his assessment of what Green Bay needs to do in the upcoming contest.

"If we stop Clinton Portis, we can win this game."

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