|Packers' Sack Ratio Among League's Best
It's not nearly as revealing a statistic as turnover ratio, which players and coaches always point to as a key indicator of wins and losses, but a team's sack ratio gives at least some idea of the teams winning the battle up front.
Sack ratio refers to the number of sacks a team records on defense versus the number it allows on offense, and the Packers' defensive and offensive lines have been doing an exemplary job in that area thus far in 2006.
The Packers are plus-13 through seven games, with 22 sacks recorded and just nine allowed. That ranks second in the league behind San Diego (plus-16), and while sacks aren't as game-changing as turnovers might be, they are negative yardage plays that can have a significant impact in any game.
"Sacks are a turnover in their own aspect," defensive tackle Colin Cole said. "When you get sacks, you have field-position changes, you have momentum changes. They have their own type of effect."
On defense, the Packers' success is mostly due to end Aaron Kampman, whose career-high 8 1/2 sacks constitute more than one-third of the team's total. Kampman was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording two sacks against Arizona, and he's tied for the league lead with San Diego's Shawne Merriman.
Also, linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk have been more active with blitzes in recent games. And the more frequent use of the '3-3' alignment -- which employs three defensive linemen, all three linebackers, and five defensive backs -- has created some favorable pass-rush matchups by moving players around and allowing them to attack from different angles.
"Every defense we have, if it's a blitz or rush or whatever, our motto is it's designed for you to get home," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said. "So hopefully everybody stays hot and (the offense) has got problems all over and they can't focus on one guy like Aaron."
The majority of the pressure still must come from the front four, which should get a boost with the return of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins from injury this week. Jenkins is perhaps the Packers' best pass rusher on the interior of the defensive line, and with him back the Packers can rotate more defenders through, which should keep them fresh and less reliant on a blitz to get pressure.
"We're really not a blitz team," Barnett said. "We do sprinkle some blitz in there. If it happens to open up, we'll bring that blitz. But we just go out there and play football and if it so happens it's the right time to call a blitz, we'll call it."
Offensively, the protection for quarterback Brett Favre has been fairly steady throughout the season. He was sacked three times by the Bears in the season opener and twice in the first quarter at Miami, when the offensive line was adjusting to the absence of left tackle Chad Clifton (illness).
But aside from that, the Packers have allowed just four sacks in the other 23 quarters of play this season, including a stretch of 108 pass plays (from the fourth quarter of Week 2 against New Orleans to the second quarter of Week 5 against St. Louis) with no sacks. Last Sunday's game against Arizona was the third time the Packers didn't allow a sack in seven games.
"The way we've called our offensive game plan this year has been sound in the sense that we've struggled early on with protection, so we've moved the pocket a little bit and kept more guys in to protect," Favre said.
The improved running game in recent weeks, and playing with the lead in these last two victories, also has factored into keeping Favre upright a vast majority of the time.
"When we get the running game established, everything comes a little bit easier," running back Ahman Green said. "They blitz a little bit less because they have to be honest, and be ready for the pass, play-action, things like that."
It's all added up to good sack statistics on both sides of the ball for the Packers, but the coaching staff feels that by no means is this as good as the ratio can get.
"We've left quite a few sacks on the table, but certainly we're going to continue to try to get as many as you can," Sanders said. "That's good pass defense, that sack, when the ball doesn't even come out."
Added offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski: "The term to use, keeping him clean, is a good term to use. It's real descriptive, because you just can't get that guy hit. He's too valuable."