That current streak is the longest in the NFL, but one area of concern that has popped up this season has been the production on the ground by opposing quarterbacks. In the first four games, Green Bay has allowed signal-callers to rush for 205 yards on just 21 carries (9.8 avg.).
“It has just been plays where we have had some mix-up, maybe a guy wasn’t in his spot here or there,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “Sometimes it has been on the D-line where we let him through, and we’ve just got to play more technique-sound and gap-sound football even in the passes when we are in our rush lanes and make sure we keep the quarterback in the pocket.”
The 205 quarterback rushing yards allowed by Green Bay are the most in the league by any team, and the total already tops what the Packers allowed all of last season (138 yards on 32 carries). The QB yardage makes up over 43 percent of what the defense has given up this season on the ground, yet it has come on just over 23 percent of the attempts. Of the 16 runs of 10-plus yards allowed by Green Bay this season, eight of them have come courtesy of quarterbacks.
A sizable chunk of that yardage was posted by one of the most dynamic rushing quarterbacks in league history in Michael Vick at Philadelphia in Week 1 (103 yards), but two other signal-callers, Chicago’s Jay Cutler in Week 3 and Detroit’s Shaun Hill last Sunday, have posted some of the best rushing performances of their careers against Green Bay.
Cutler gained 37 yards on three carries, his highest yardage output since a 42-yard performance at San Diego on Dec. 24, 2007. Hill’s 53 yards on four attempts matched his career high set last season vs. Atlanta (Oct. 11), and his 40-yard gain down the middle of the field was the longest run by a quarterback in the league this season.
“The quarterback runs, you anticipate that with a Michael Vick,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Cutler had three pretty good runs against us last week, which we were in zone coverage on, which really shouldn’t happen.
“Now I understand a little more (vs. Detroit) because were in man-under and we were overloading one side of the line. The one that he came out of there, you saw that they got us with four rushers to one side and only one to the other side, but we’ve got to come off and converge on that quicker to where it doesn’t end up being a 40-yard run.”
While Cutler and Hill aren’t necessarily known for their ability to do a lot of damage as rushers, the Packers will see another quarterback that is this Sunday in Washington’s Donovan McNabb, acquired by the Redskins this offseason in a trade with the Eagles.
McNabb ranks No. 7 all-time among NFL quarterbacks with 3,330 career rushing yards, and his abilities are familiar to Green Bay fans who can remember back to a 2003 Divisional Playoff contest against the Packers that saw him set an NFL playoff record for a quarterback with 107 rushing yards (later surpassed by Vick vs. St. Louis in 2005). While at age 33 McNabb may not be quite the same threat he was years ago, his athleticism continues to create problems for opposing defenses.
“Donovan is great,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “He has looked good. He is doing the same thing he was doing earlier, but now he scrambles more so to pass than to run, but he can still run.
“He is a hard guy to get a lick on, and once you touch him, it’s hard to bring him down because he is so strong and so big. He’s a tough quarterback to come after.”
If the Packers want to see what he is still capable of, they only need to look at the film of Washington’s 17-12 win last Sunday at Philadelphia in McNabb’s return to face his longtime team. He registered a season-high 39 yards on five carries, including a 12-yard pickup to convert a third-and-9 in the third quarter and an 18-yard gain to pick up a third down late in the game.
The latter run came at a critical juncture with the Redskins facing a third-and-4 at their own 22 as the they tried to protect a 17-12 lead with just under four minutes remaining. McNabb scrambled down the right sideline before going out of bounds at the Washington 40, and even though they didn't add to their lead, picking up that first down allowed them to run nearly three minutes off the clock as Philadelphia got the ball back at its own 26 with just 1:07 remaining and no timeouts left.
“He’s dynamic, and we saw it last week against Philadelphia,” linebacker Brady Poppinga said. “He was able to go and convert some tough situations that really were difficult. He couldn’t throw the ball down the field and he was able to break some tackles in the backfield and make the necessary yardage to get a whole new set of downs.”
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound McNabb was sacked just once by the Eagles, the third time this year that the Redskins have only allowed one sack of their veteran signal-caller. He ranks fifth among NFL quarterbacks this season with 81 rushing yards on just eight attempts, and his 10.1 average leads all quarterbacks (min. five attempts).
“You have to keep your eye on the quarterback and understand that he is a threat and acknowledge that and be aware of that,” Poppinga said. “It’s more about awareness and your rush lanes and respecting that than anything. We’ll be ready.
“KGB (former Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila) used to always say, when you are playing Donovan McNabb, it is one thing to beat the tackle, but it is a whole another adventure to try to take down a guy like Donovan McNabb. He has proven that. Tackling is at a premium this week, especially on a guy with a bigger body, a strong lower body. So you have to be able to wrap him up, get your arms around his wide body, and basically get leverage on him so you can put him down to the ground. Obviously it is easier said than done, but tackling will be at a premium this week versus a guy like McNabb.”
Additional coverage – Oct. 7