GREEN BAY—The number jumped off the stat sheet.
“When you’re talking about quarterback hits – 16 – that’s a big night,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday, referring to the Packers’ pass-rush performance last week against the Vikings.
It’s the kind of consistent pressure any team would love to generate every week. Green Bay sacked Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder six times, but even on plays where a sack didn’t happen, the impact was easily seen.
Getting after second-year Miami QB Ryan Tannehill in similar fashion would go a long way toward returning triumphant from the South Florida heat.
It starts with stopping the run, and the Dolphins’ impressive 5.0 yards per rush on the season will be Tannehill’s best protection on Sunday. But if the defense is in favorable down-and-distance, the Packers have shown this season they can affect the pocket without requiring defensive coordinator Dom Capers to resort to blitzes, which compromise the coverage.
“We’ve done a great job of not only getting after the quarterback, but disrupting him and really just changing what offenses want to throw at us,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said.
One of the keys to a successful four-man rush has been the rotation up front. The interior has been led by Mike Daniels, who had four hits on Ponder himself last week, and the recent emergence of Letroy Guion. But the group could be a man down this week if Datone Jones, who has missed both days of practice this week due to an ankle injury, can’t play.
On the outside, though, the Packers are fully stocked, with Matthews and Julius Peppers on occasion catching a rest while Mike Neal and Nick Perry sub in. Perry had two of the six sacks against the Vikings.
“It’s at times provided a shot in the arm,” Matthews said of the rotation. “Mike and Nick are both explosive players and specialized in what they do, rushing the passer. It’s only going to help spelling myself and Peppers, as well as keeping those tackles, guards, whoever, on their heels.”
When Capers has called on a blitzer, inside linebacker A.J. Hawk is a common choice. Another of late has been cornerback Tramon Williams charging from the slot in the nickel or dime package, a ploy that works better the less it’s used.
“I haven’t gotten a sack yet this year, but a lot of times I go, I usually come free and get a quarterback hit,” Williams said. “It’s definitely fun.”
The Dolphins will try to keep the Packers off balance with not only the run game, but also the up-tempo style employed by new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who came from Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia staff.
Relaying the defensive calls in a timely fashion will be important, but the Packers are confident their communication will be fine. Multiple defenders said last year’s defensive struggles against the Eagles weren’t due to calls and communication but simply poor play.
“Our mindset is to worry about us,” Peppers said. “Get the call in, get organized, get all set and play our keys. It’s more about us.”
Another “big night” on the stat sheet would mean another step forward for the Packers defense.
“Pass rush is one of those things where you get better as the year goes along,” Peppers said. “Hopefully that’s an indication of us hitting our stride, getting better up front, and getting more pressure and hits.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 9