No team intercepts the ball at the rate the Packers do, but the Chiefs are as skilled at it as any of Green Bay’s opponents thus far.
Kansas City is tied for fifth in the league with 17 interceptions through 13 games, a big reason the Chiefs’ pass-defense is ranked 10th. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday Kansas City possesses one of the best defenses the Packers have faced all season, and he was no doubt most impressed by the way the Chiefs defend the pass.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t throw many interceptions, of course – just six in 438 pass attempts this season – but if there’s one thing the Chiefs see as a key to upsetting the unbeaten Packers at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, it’s getting their hands on a Rodgers pass or two.
“I think they play the ball well in the air,” Packers Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said of Kansas City’s secondary, which has all but one of the Chiefs’ interceptions this year. “There are some guys that cover very well in this league, but they maybe don’t make a play on the ball real well. I think these guys have the combination.
“When the play is there, they usually make it. They don’t miss a lot of those plays.”
Any one of Kansas City’s defensive backs can make that play, too, despite the early-season loss of top safety Eric Berry to injury. Every member of the Chiefs’ starting secondary – cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr and safeties Jon McGraw and Kendrick Lewis – has at least three interceptions this season. Flowers leads the way with four, and he and Lewis both have returned picks for touchdowns.
McGraw, who coincidentally attended Riley County (Kan.) High School and Kansas State University a few years before Packers receiver Jordy Nelson did, could miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, but even nickel and dime backs Javier Arenas and Travis Daniels have combined for three more interceptions, so there’s something to the way they play their scheme.
Philbin said the Chiefs mix zone and man coverages to keep offenses guessing, and they show confidence in their corners by putting them on an island in bump-and-run a fair amount of time.
“They’re not afraid to isolate those guys a little bit,” Philbin said.
Which means the Packers receivers have to look at every potential pass play as requiring them to win two one-on-one matchups – first the route, then the catch.
“Their corners all have good ball skills in the back end,” James Jones said. “They’re kind of like wide receivers in DBs’ bodies. We’re going to have to go up and make some plays on the ball, because if they get their hands on it, they will catch it.”
The Packers’ knack for interceptions this season stands out. Green Bay’s league-leading 27 isn’t likely to be challenged over the final three weeks of the regular season, as the next-closest total is 18.
What separates the Packers is they have one of the top interceptors in the league in Charles Woodson, with seven, and they’ve added five interceptions from linebackers (two each by Clay Matthews and Robert Francois, plus one by D.J. Smith).
It’s worth noting, however, that of the seven teams bunched behind the Packers with 17 or 18 picks this season, three of them are Green Bay’s remaining regular-season opponents. Like Kansas City, Chicago has 17 interceptions, while Detroit is tied for second in the league with 18.
The Bears and Lions already got one crack each at Rodgers, with Chicago’s Brian Urlacher notching the only interception thus far. Sunday it’s the Chiefs’ turn, and the Packers know what they’re after.
“They’re a group that plays a lot of DBs, especially against the team we’re going to have out there, spreading them out (with) multiple receivers,” Nelson said. “They’re a very solid group. It’ll be a good battle.”
Injury update: Right guard Josh Sitton did a little more work in practice on Thursday than on Wednesday, taking part in team (11-on-11) drills with both the scout team and the first-team offense.
McCarthy said how Sitton’s knee feels on Friday will play a big part in whether or not he plays on Sunday.
For the first time in several weeks, the Packers did not practice in pads on Thursday. The new collective bargaining agreement allows for only three padded practices over the season’s final five weeks, and the Packers had already used two of them.
McCarthy said the team will be allowed to practice in pads once per week during the playoffs. He was in the process of checking on what the rule will be during Green Bay’s playoff bye week after the regular-season finale. Additional coverage - Dec. 15