Senior writer jclombardi highlights Packers headlines.
Packers focus on rushing defense: In the the halfway point of the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 58.9 yards per game. At the end of 2009, that top spot belonged to Green Bay, which held opponents to an average of 83.3 yards per game. But the Packers aren’t anywhere close to that now. Their rushing defense has fallen all the way to 25th at 123.6. Injuries and circumstances have led to the indication, at least statistically, of a defensive drop-off. But despite the numbers, the Packers still feel they have a very good run defense and point to the 9-0 shutout against New York. Coach McCarthy believes in the run defense and great opportunity to improve in the second half of the season. Against the Jets, the defensive line and supporting outside linebackers helped dictate the down and distance, said Capers.
Cowboys scouting report: Running game–Cowboys have been a major disappointment. The Cowboys rank No. 31 in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Their backfield tandem should be good — Marion Barber is 27, which is before the decline starts for most NFL backs, and Jones is 23, but they’re not picking up anything. Barber, the nominal starter, has been reduced to mainly a short-yardage back and is averaging only 3.0 yards on his 65 carries. Jones has a decent 4.2-yard average in his 68 carries, but he hasn’t been the breakaway threat of past years. On the offensive line, LT Free has been fine, but the rest of the group hasn’t. Passing game–Romo is out. The Cowboys will miss his ability to make plays, especially when things break down and he moves outside the pocket. Backup Jon Kitna is a stationary target. He has a decent and relatively accurate throwing arm, but he’s not a playmaker. Running defense–Dallas’ collapse on defense is the biggest surprise of its season. The Cowboys finished last season with the No. 4 rushing defense and No. 2 scoring defense but have dropped to Nos. 24 and 27, respectively, this year. Passing defense–The most damning statistic of a bad year? Jacksonville QB Garrard hitting the Cowboys for four touchdown passes and an astronomical passer rating. Though the Cowboys rank No. 9 in the NFL in sacks percentage, the pass rush hasn’t been lacking. Special teams–Bryant is a big-time threat returning punts and has taken back two of his 12 returns for touchdowns. Rookie kickoff returner Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (21.7-yard average) hasn’t been as dynamic.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talks about team’s renewed confidence: “There was a different feeling in the locker room,” Rodgers said in an interview on the Jim Rome radio show. “That confidence was back. There was an excitement. The urgency from the previous week carried over.” “The guys we’ve brought in have all had the right mindset. They’ve been hungry,” Rodgers said. “We brought in DE Green. He played great for us. Charles Peprah been starting at safety and had a great game Sunday. It’s a combination of the guys filling those voids improving their play and good leadership keeping the guys focused on the things that we can control.” Rodgers also discussed an offense that continues to struggle. The Packers rank No. 16 in the NFL in average yards (335.9), No. 13 in points (22 a game) and tied for No. 25 on third downs (35 percent). “Offensively we can do a lot more,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been hurt by some injuries, obviously, to a couple key players. We still feel like we haven’t made enough plays on offense, and that starts with me. I’ve got to play better in the second half of the season.”