Packers D seeks improvement after mini-break

December 6, 2013

Minnesota Vikings' Jerome Simpson catches a pass over Green Bay Packers' Tramon Williams (38) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY After five winless weeks, the Packers got a chance to rest.

About the only positive that Green Bay can take away from its 40-10 loss to Detroit on Thanksgiving was that it gave the banged-up team a few extra days off.

The Packers have had to push through a nine-week stretch without a breather after getting a Week 4 bye.

Cornerback Tramon Williams hopes a maligned defense can make its season-ending stand, starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

"A lot of energy out there. Hopefully, it carries over," Williams said. "Guys haven't given up at all ... We know what's at stake and we have to come out and play our best ball."

The Packers are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2008, when they had a five-game losing skid late in the season and finished 6-10. It was quarterback Aaron Rodgers' first year as starting quarterback.

The 0-4-1 slide has a lot to do with Rodgers being sidelined by a fractured left collarbone. The franchise quarterback is back at practice on a limited basis, and coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers made a little more progress Thursday.

Green Bay Packers' Mike Daniels celebrates after a sack of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. The game ended in a tie, 26-26.

But Rodgers still hasn't been cleared to play, and if that stands, Matt Flynn would get the start against Atlanta.

Just as alarming for the Packers has been the collapse of the defense at a time when it was needed most with Rodgers out.

Green Bay has given up about 29 points per game during its five-game slide, about a touchdown more than during the 5-2 start. A season-long problem with missed tackles has been one of the biggest issues.

A run defense that was once in the top five in the league has allowed an average of 185 yards over the past five games.

"The game is won or lost at the line. So we have accountable guys in our room and that just goes to show you we're looking at it as, we have to take control of the ship here," defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. "We have to make sure we do our job the best and everybody else will follow."

Just in time for Green Bay, Falcons running back Steven Jackson is regaining form after missing much of the first half of the season with a hamstring injury.

Jackson ran for two touchdowns and set season highs with 23 carries for 84 yards in last week's win over Buffalo that snapped a five-game losing streak.

Some players have grown weary with the questions. But they also know they have to produce results, especially after the humbling Thanksgiving Day loss.

"You're not a fighter until you get up off that mat, as they tell boxers, so see how guys respond," Daniels said. "It's not whether you get up, it is how you get up."

Maybe the few extra days off will do them some good. A defense maligned by injuries has slowly been getting players back.

Pass-rushing specialist Clay Matthews has three sacks in his four games since returning from a thumb injury. Nick Perry (foot) has been limited in practice this week by a recurring foot injury, though he did register seven tackles and a sack last week against Detroit.

The work ethic remains high, McCarthy said.

"The break was well needed. It's definitely rejuvenated us physically and I would hope so mentally. The energy has been excellent," he said.

When asked, Williams said no one was pointing fingers in trying to assign blame. The future of defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been a popular topic of late on Wisconsin sports talk radio.

Williams has put the debacle in Detroit behind him. No sense dwelling on it. Now it's time to get back on the field after a few days off.

"Kind of hit the reset button a little bit and come back with a different focus, a stronger focus," Williams said. "Just try to get back to work and make things happen like we've been doing around here in Packer country."

Notes: LT David Bakhtiari did not take part in practice Thursday due to illness. C Evan Dietrich-Smith sat out with knee and ankle injuries. ... LB Mike Neal (abdomen) and DT Ryan Pickett (knee) also missed practice.

Pack CB Williams fined for contact with official

GREEN BAY Packers cornerback Tramon Williams has been fined $26,250 for contact with an official, per NFL guidelines.

Williams told reporters Thursday that he planned to appeal. He said he didn't realize he had made contact with the official, and meant no harm.

The contact occurred after a Lions touchdown early in the fourth quarter of Green Bay's 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. A replay appeared to show Williams looking away while walking forward, just behind Lions center Dominic Raiola, when the official crossed in between the two players. Williams received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Williams said he had been shoved by Raiola just after the touchdown. He said he was frustrated on the play.

Falcons' woeful run D braces for Packers' Lacy

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga.  The Atlanta Falcons don't know if they'll be facing Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.

They do know they'll have to try to stop rookie running back Eddie Lacy, and that's a major concern for the NFL's 30th-ranked run defense.

Atlanta has struggled against the run all season. The Falcons allow 135.4 yards rushing per game and have given up five runs of 40 yards or longer the most in the league.

The run defense showed no improvement even as the Falcons snapped their five-game losing streak in last week's 34-31 overtime win over Buffalo. The Bills ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns. C.J. Spiller had a season-high 149 yards rushing, including a 77-yard run.

The Falcons are worried the powerful Lacy could be even more difficult to contain.

"He's a very physical running back, a downhill runner and one of the best rookie running backs I think we've seen in a long time," Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora said Thursday. "We have our work cut out for us. We just have to be physical with him and try to slow him down a little bit."

Lacy, the former Alabama standout, has 822 yards rushing with six touchdowns. The 230-pound Lacy doesn't have Spiller's speed, but he has the potential for big gains by breaking tackles with his power runs.

"I've watched a lot of tape on him," said Atlanta safety William Moore. "He's a physical runner. One player hasn't been able to bring him down yet this season. You've got to get 11 hats to the ball."

It's another opportunity for the Falcons to address their season-long trend of giving up too many big plays.

"It's going to be a big challenge for us because we've not defended the run nearly as well as we need to," said coach Mike Smith.

"We've not done a good job. Explosive runs unfortunately are talked about with the secondary because that's usually what happens. If they get past your secondary, they're going to be a long run. But there are other factors that lead to it getting to your secondary."

Smith said "gap integrity issues" and missed tackles contributed to the problems against the Bills.

If Rodgers is held out as he continues to recover from a broken collarbone, the Falcons could follow the trend of other defenses who have loaded the box to focus on slowing Lacy's runs.

With Matt Flynn struggling as Rodgers' replacement, Lacy had 10 carries for only 16 yards in last week's 40-10 loss to Detroit. His longest carry was only four yards. Lacy had 14 carries for only 27 yards in a 27-13 loss at the Giants on Nov. 17, but he bounced back with 110 yards against Minnesota on Nov. 24.

Rodgers practiced in pads on Thursday.

"I think what we need to do is just prepare as if Rodgers is going to play and if not Flynn is a capable quarterback also," Umenyiora said.

Flynn completed only 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards with an interception against Detroit last week.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Falcons stack eight defenders in the box to focus on Lacy if Rodgers doesn't play.

"Eight-man football is not something new to the league," McCarthy said. "We didn't do a very good job obviously handling it. ... So we have some things we're working on. Our goal is to be a week better at it and we have to take advantage with things we feel are matchups. We like our receiver group every week so that's definitely a challenge we look forward to."

Flynn said he knows it would be his responsibility to create running opportunities for Lacy by forcing the Falcons to respect the Packers' passing game.

"Yeah, that's the plan," Flynn said. "People are going to load the box, we have to make them respect the pass. We just have to execute, that's what it comes down to, execution. ... But obviously if people are loading the box on you, you've got to throw it and make them get out of it."


Associated Press