Pack­ers de­fense presents tough chal­lenge

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tom Moore Tom Moore is a columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times: He can be reached at: [email protected]­er­; @TomMoorePh­illy.

For the Philadel­phia Ea­gles to avoid a 1-3 start, they have to de­feat the 3-0 Pack­ers on a short week at Lam­beau Field.

Se­cond-year Green Bay de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine’s for­mi­da­ble “D” fig­ures to make the Birds’ task espe­cially dif­fi­cult Thurs­day night.

Pet­tine’s at­tack­ing, ag­gres­sive de­fense leads the NFL with eight take­aways (four in­ter­cep­tions, four re­cov­ered fum­bles) and is se­cond with 12 sacks — 10 more than the Ea­gles. Green Bay’s five forced fum­bles are tied for most in the league.

“They play fast,” quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz told re­porters Tues­day. “They play phys­i­cal. Re­ally tal­ented front. They mix it up re­ally well [be­cause] they want to con­fuse you. They bring dif­fer­ent funky pressures. They drop eight [into cov­er­age]. We’re go­ing to have to be on top of things and play fast.”

While Pet­tine, a Cen­tral Bucks West High School (Doylestown) grad­u­ate and the son of leg­endary West coach Mike Pet­tine, likes to change things up, he’s been able to get pres­sure on op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs with as few as three- and four-men rushes.

In the Pack­ers’ sea­son-open­ing 10-3 road win over the Bears, Pet­tine con­sis­tently stayed in the nickel de­fense. De­spite Green Bay’s re­liance on five de­fen­sive backs and two out­side lineback­ers, Chicago couldn’t run the ball ef­fec­tively even when em­ploy­ing two tight ends and two run­ning backs.

At the end of the na­tion­ally tele­vised game, quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers gave Pet­tine a con­grat­u­la­tory shove on the side­line.

“We got a de­fense,” Rodgers said twice dur­ing his on-field in­ter­view af­ter­ward.

In a 21-16 Week 2 vic­tory over the Vik­ings, Rodgers and the Green Bay of­fense failed to score on its fi­nal 11 pos­ses­sions, but Pet­tine’s de­fense made sure three early touch­downs would be enough.

“We owe a lot of [be­ing 2-0] to our de­fense and Mike Pet­tine and his staff and those guys for mak­ing plays when they had to,” Rodgers said fol­low­ing the Min­nesota game.

Six sacks of Joe Flacco high­lighted Sunday’s 27-16 home win over the Bron­cos.

“Our guys have re­ally bought in to how we’re teach­ing [this de­fense],” Pet­tine told re­porters.

While Rodgers has reg­u­larly guided a pro­duc­tive of­fense, the Pack­ers’ “D” hasn’t been up to par since the 2010 sea­son that ended with a Su­per Bowl vic­tory. That could be chang­ing.

Green Bay has al­lowed an NFC-low 35 points, trail­ing only the Pa­tri­ots (17), league-wide. It has been even bet­ter in the se­cond half, giv­ing up just 12 points. In ad­di­tion, the Pack­ers rank fifth in pass­ing de­fense and have only sur­ren­dered one pass­ing touch­down, but are 25th vs. the run.

“This de­fense is very op­por­tunis­tic,” Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son said Mon­day. “They can give you a lot of prob­lems on third down. They will play five, six, seven DBs, and Coach Pet­tine has a pretty good blitz pack­age.”

Pet­tine and the Pack­ers over­hauled the de­fense from a year ago. The big­gest moves were let­ting pop­u­lar line­backer Clay Matthews leave via free agency and sign­ing a pair of book­end out­side lineback­ers in Preston Smith and Za’Dar­ius Smith for his 3-4 base scheme. Those two have al­ready com­bined for 71⁄2 sacks, with Preston reg­is­ter­ing 41⁄2, in­clud­ing three vs. Den­ver.

Young corner­backs Kevin King (third year) and Jaire Alexan­der (se­cond) can play the 1-on-1, press cov­er­age Pet­tine prefers be­cause it per­mits him to blitz.

“They’re both ex­tremely gifted,” Pet­tine said.

Ea­gles’ deep threat DeSean Jack­son would help cre­ate space for tight end Zach Ertz and oth­ers un­der­neath, but Jack­son is ex­pected to be out again with an ab­dom­i­nal in­jury. Al­shon Jef­fery ap­pears on course to play af­ter sit­ting out the 27-24 home loss to the Lions due to a strained calf, which might keep the Pack­ers from dou­ble-team­ing Ertz the way Detroit did.

The Birds have only scored 23 of their 76 points in the first half, re­sult­ing in them trail­ing at half­time dur­ing all three games. That’s not a recipe for suc­cess, espe­cially against a de­fense like the Pack­ers.

Pet­tine, who turns 53 on Wed­nes­day, was also a de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the Jets and Bills. He’s learned a lot dur­ing his 16 years in the NFL, which be­gan as a Ravens video scout and peaked as head coach of the Browns (2014-15), and has se­cured more of the play­ers he needs with the Pack­ers for his sys­tem to work.

Pet­tine has a good thing go­ing in Green Bay, which the Ea­gles must find a way to over­come Thurs­day evening to avoid a third straight de­feat.


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