GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy wasn’t interested in declaring the Packers’ pass rush the best of his tenure this week, but that’s only because the sample size is too small.
“Let’s play the whole year,” the head coach said, mentioning the 2007 and 2010 units as rather formidable themselves. “But we definitely can be that type.”
What defined the pass rush of those two previous teams is each had a trio of players who consistently got to the quarterback.
In 2007, playing a 4-3 front, Aaron Kampman, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Corey Williams each had at least seven sacks, led by Kampman’s 12.
Three years later, in the second season of Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme, Clay Matthews, Cullen Jenkins and B.J. Raji each had at least 6½ sacks, led by Matthews’ 13½.
This year’s group has expanded on that, so far. Through five games, five players have at least two sacks and are therefore on pace to reach the 6½-to-7 range. Two players in Matthews and Julius Peppers, with 4½ sacks apiece already, are on track for a dozen or more.
The team’s total of 20 sacks, good for second in the league, also puts the group on pace to shatter the franchise single-season record of 52 set back in 2001 (sacks were first recorded as a team statistic in 1963).
“I think we’re playing pretty fast,” Peppers said. “It’s a good thing to have show up on tape.”
The tape shows a seven-sack game against Kansas City followed by a six-sack effort at San Francisco. This past week against the Rams, Green Bay’s pass rush was arguably the most ferocious yet despite only recording three sacks.
St. Louis QB Nick Foles was hit repeatedly, a dozen times in all on 30 dropbacks. He rarely had time to throw, let alone feel comfortable physically trying to do so.
“Dom’s doing a great job of playing on mismatches and opportunities,” Matthews said. “Last week we did a number of pressures in which we were able to get after the quarterback and hit him early. You have to think that kind of affected him for the rest of the game.”
Four Foles interceptions, two in a span of three passes in the first quarter with one returned for a touchdown, prove Matthews’ point.
“It’s fun to have the front seven like we have. It makes it fun for us in the back end,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “A couple times in the game, I was in the deep middle of the field, and I could just see the pressure getting to the quarterback.
“It was remarkable, and you know if you’ve got guys like that up front, you’re going to get turnovers in the back end.”
The depth of the pass rush will be tested this week with the expected absence of Nick Perry (shoulder), who ranks third on the team with 3½ sacks. It will likely mean more edge-rush opportunities for Jayrone Elliott (two sacks), Mike Neal (1½) and perhaps Andy Mulumba.
The coverage is doing its part to let the pass rush get home, of course, and the depth in the secondary already has passed multiple tests.
Safety Morgan Burnett has missed four of five games with a calf injury, and fellow safety Sean Richardson is now out for the season.
The lineup shuffling that’s resulted has led to more playing time for young safety Chris Banjo along with rookie cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, with no discernible dropoff in performance.
Randall ranks second on the team with five pass breakups while Rollins is coming off a two-interception game against the Rams, including the pick-six. The team’s top two draft picks have stepped in and shown they’ve belonged from the beginning.
“That’s just the mindset they have,” Hyde said. “I love playing with those two.”
The Packers offense loves playing with this defense, too.
“The defense is off to a great start. We’re watching it, and they’re playing at a real high level right now,” running back Eddie Lacy said. “From the looks of things, it’s only going to get better.”
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