Early in training camp Packers defensive coordinator Jim Bates cited stopping the run and eliminating long gains as a goal, and he has made that objective clear to his players through the course of the season.
"Just about every play, he's yelling ... He wants 11 people to the ball," defensive tackle Corey Williams said. "He keeps stressing it."
That encouragement has paid off. After allowing 4.6 yards-a-carry last year, the Packers have allowed 3.3 in 2005, which is tied for third best in the NFL.
"Our defense has made significant progress," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "The biggest thing I'm proud of is the fact that we haven't given up explosive runs."
Running backs usually gash for long gains by breaking a series of tackles but have not had much success against the Packers' run defenders. Working on bringing ballcarriers down, however, can prove difficult. Like most NFL teams, the Packers rarely tackle during practice to minimize their wear and tear.
But the Packers can focus on tackling without using full contact. During individual and team drills, the Packers practice proper tackling fundamentals, including pursuit angles, knee bend, square hips and leverage. That emphasis has carried over into games.
"Your body gets trained to be in that position," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "So when it's time to do that in a game, you can do that."
Indeed the defense has allowed only two runs longer than 12 yards. Both were 26-and 17-yard gains by Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell Williams, who took advantage of a worn down defense in the fourth quarter.
"We're tackling better," Sherman said. "We're fundamentally sound."
This year's scheme also calls for less blitzing. When the defenders constantly blitzed last season, it robbed them of their power. Keying on the pass rush caused them to lose a strong base and prevented their shoulders from staying square.
"When you're blitzing, all the time and moving and slanting, it's easy to get washed," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "What we do well is when we play our foundation, play our fundamentals and mix in the blitzes."
The new defense also favors a two-gap instead of a one-gap scheme. Last year defensive linemen had to concentrate on their assigned gap regardless of where the play went. In the two-gap system they can flow to wherever the ballcarrier runs.
"You get a chance to be free because you can really just play your game," Williams said. "You don't have to worry about one specific thing. You can just make plays."
Schemes and design can only do so much. The Packers have also adopted a swarm mentality where every player puts a lick on the running back.
"Everybody hustles," Lenon said.
The Packers' run defense ranks 10th overall, allowing 100.6 yards per game. Those numbers could improve as players continue to master the new defense.
"We're starting to get in the swing of the defense," Williams said. "And we're learning more week after week."