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Secondaries Have Thrived On Takeaways


When NFL teams prepare their game plans each week, they'll often look for an opposing defensive back who might be a weak link, one they can go after with their passing attack.

Good luck finding one at LP Field in Nashville on Sunday.

The Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans have no less than seven defensive backs between them who have combined for a whopping 23 interceptions in 2008, an indication there's virtually no one safe to "pick on."

In fact, four of the top five interceptors in the league this season will be playing in Sunday's game. Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Nick Collins, along with Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Michael Griffin, have four interceptions apiece, tied for the top mark in the NFL. The only other player with that many is St. Louis' Oshiomogho Atogwe.

In addition to that top quartet, Packers cornerback Tramon Williams has three interceptions, while Titans cornerback Nick Harper and safety Chris Hope have two apiece. Williams snagged his while filling in as the starter for Al Harris, who's expected to return this week, while Hope got both of his this past Monday against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

"Their secondary is second to none," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "They force turnovers and they're putting their offensive guys in position to score. We definitely have our work cut out for us."

That goes for both offenses, against defenses that come into Sunday's game ranked sixth (Green Bay) and fourth (Tennessee) in the league against the pass.

For the Packers, the return of Harris (spleen) and safety Atari Bigby (hamstring) should put the secondary at full strength for the first time in six weeks. It's worth noting that Bigby is no slouch in the turnover department either, racking up four interceptions last December and another in the season opener this year before getting hurt in Week 2.

"The guys in the back end do a great job of anticipating the ball, and when it's in the air, they have the attitude, the mentality that says, 'Hey, it's ours,'" defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "Hopefully we're contributing to that a little bit with our pass rush, putting pressure on quarterbacks and making them feel uncomfortable. All that works together like a hand in a glove."

But both teams have counter-measures to try to keep the ball-hawking secondaries from changing the game. They start first and foremost with the quarterbacks, as Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Tennessee's Kerry Collins have thrown just seven interceptions this season between them.

For Rodgers, three of his four picks came in one game, at Tampa Bay, giving the first-year starter just one interception in his other six contests.

For the veteran Collins, he's on pace for a career-low in interceptions. A full-time starter for the first time since 2005, Collins has never been particularly interception prone, with a single-season high of 21. But his three picks in seven games played (six starts) this year is an average well below his career numbers of 172 interceptions in 162 games (149 starts) coming into 2008.

"I wouldn't necessarily say I'm playing that much different," Collins said. "I think overall I'm making better decisions than I did when I was younger, but that just comes with maturity and experience and the whole bit. I'm trying to be a smarter quarterback and trying to rely on the experience I've gotten."

He's also relying on the punishing ground game the Titans feature. Tennessee has run the ball on 55 percent of its snaps this season (237 of 431), keeping its passing attack from having to flat-out win a game by itself.

Most of the Packers' interceptions this season have come late in games, with the opponent behind and playing catch-up, so the goal is to get the Titans in that position, which they really haven't experienced while going 7-0 thus far.

"They play pressure defense," Collins said of the Packers. "They don't necessarily blitz you a ton or do everything like that, but the corners get up in your face on the outside, they do a good job of keeping everything in front of them, and they get the turnovers. It's going to be a big challenge for us."

In the meantime, the Packers hope to challenge the Titans' secondary with their four- and five-wideout sets, which partly due to injuries to James Jones (knee) and Ruvell Martin (finger) have been used sparingly if at all this year.

{sportsad300}But with Jones expected back and fully healthy this week, the Packers hope to have all five wide receivers available and could employ the "Big Five" or "Fab Five" formation, with Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jones, Jordy Nelson and Martin on the field together, for the first time this season. That's still not certain, though, after Nelson was added to the injury report as questionable late in the week with an ankle injury.

"It always causes matchup problems," Jennings said of the five-wide look, which so far this year has required a tight end as the fifth receiver. "I think the first few times we used it last year, teams had to call timeout. It always causes some type of defensive adjustment. Hopefully we use it."

If the Packers do, they'll find out just how deep the Titans' defensive backfield is. The Packers are confident in their depth, which includes up-and-comers such as cornerback Will Blackmon and safety Aaron Rouse (who had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Manning in the last game) in addition to the defensive backs already mentioned.

The Packers are likely to find out how confident the Titans are in theirs.

"That's exactly our mindset," Jennings said. "Aside really from our ballclub, there aren't too many teams that have five defensive backs who can match up and cause a problem the way we feel like we can cause a problem for the defense."

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