GREEN BAY – Earlier this week, Mike McCarthy said the Packers’ quarterback is getting hit too much. On Thursday, he emphasized that the opposite is also true – the other team’s QB isn’t getting hit enough.
The Packers have hit a dry spell in the sack department, failing to record one in either of the last two games in Denver and Carolina, and the impact on the defensive performance is obvious.
It’s out of character for a team that was second in the league in sacks through six games and had recorded a league-high streak of at least one sack in 42 consecutive regular-season games before visiting the Broncos.
The fast start with the pass rush – 23 sacks in six weeks – wasn’t a pace likely to be sustained over the long haul, but veteran defender Julius Peppers said the Packers still have to counter the protection plans opposing offenses have employed as a reaction to that early-season film.
“You have spells where once you have so many sacks and pressures in a short amount of time, people take notice, so they prepare,” said Peppers, who leads the team with 5½ sacks. “They like to take certain things away. It’s a game of adjustments. It’s our turn to adjust and start getting the pressure again.”
If sacks come in bunches, as the saying goes, droughts can also crop up. The sack shutouts in Denver and Carolina were for different reasons.
Against the Broncos, the Packers couldn’t stop the run, which left them at the mercy of veteran QB Peyton Manning. A four-man rush was a step slow because of concerns for the run, and Manning knew it. He also got the ball out quickly anytime he diagnosed a blitz coming.
Against the Panthers, the Packers held up OK against the league’s No. 1 ground game (31 carries for 88 yards, minus Cam Newton’s five scrambles) but they ran into a variety of max protection schemes.
Carolina often kept extra blockers in and sent fewer receivers out on routes, a strategy they probably figured could work with Green Bay down two of its top four cornerbacks (Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins). As a result, Newton completed only 50 percent of his passes (15 of 30), but those 15 completions gained a whopping 297 yards.
On Thursday, Clay Matthews referred to max protection schemes as “excuses,” and Peppers said it’s up to the defense to find a weakness in the protection to exploit.
“In our eyes, we feel like we have to find a way to make it happen,” Peppers said.
The secondary’s struggles play a role, too, as sacks can be the result of superb coverage as often as interceptions can be created by pressure up front.
“I think it goes hand in hand with the pass rush and pass coverage,” said Matthews, second on the team to Peppers with 4½ sacks. “We just have to do a better job on both ends of the stick.
“You’ve seen the games in which we’ve had a big number of turnovers, interceptions or sacks, the coverage has been great, helping us get home to the quarterback, and vice versa. We have to get back on track and it starts this week.”
It’ll help that Matthews is another week removed from the ankle injury he sustained in Denver. He said he’s battling through it with a hefty tape job, but he has no plans to miss playing time.
Improved health at cornerback also will be welcome. Shields (shoulder) and Rollins (neck) so far are on track to return this week, while Casey Hayward (concussion) and Damarious Randall (illness) were both back at practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect on Sunday from the Lions, who recently changed offensive coordinators and line coaches. They’re coming off a bye and are likely to have some new looks in store.
The Packers aren’t concerned with the unknown, though. They’re focused on themselves and look to regroup, to use Peppers’ word.
“We all have to do our jobs,” he said. “The rushers have got to rush; the back end, they’ve got to cover. Everybody has to make sure they’re doing their part.
“We take it upon ourselves up front to make plays, and we look forward to getting back to that.”
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