Packers' Run Defense Looks Like Most Improved Unit After Big Showing vs. Rams

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2014

Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews waits for the snap on the line of scrimmage during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the St. Louis Rams Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Tom Gannam/Associated Press

The Green Bay Packers showed a good amount of improvement in Week 2 of the preseason, especially on the defensive side of the football.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit shined in St. Louis on Saturday afternoon, limiting the Rams to just seven points and making a number of impact plays throughout the contest.

While the Packers defense was rather impressive overall, the unit was especially stout against the run.

As a team, the Rams netted just 78 yards rushing on the afternoon. No single back gained more than 30 yards.

This is a big improvement over Green Bay's first preseason outing, when the Packers surrendered 105 net yards rushing to the Tennessee Titans. It is an even bigger improvement over last season, when the team surrendered an average of 125.0 yards per game (25th in the NFL) on the ground.

Re-signing defensive tackle B.J Raji and moving back to the nose tackle position helps to give the Packers a solid base for their defensive front. However, it is the implementation of a lighter and quicker defensive line that has really helped the run defense begin to improve.

In years past, the Packers had relied on mass along the defensive front to open things up for linebackers to make plays. Now, athletic linemen such as Datone Jones and Khyri Thornton are expected to make the plays up front.

Rookie defender Carlos Gray recently touched on the new philosophy in an article by Weston Hodkiewicz of

I believe it’s just something that they want to be smaller so we can move and run faster. The past few D-lines they’ve had have been very big guys. They were more of a gap defense. Now they’re more of an attack defense. They need guys who can move.

The quick first step of the defensive line was on display on Saturday, as linemen frequently got off their blocks and found ways to flow to the ball-carrier. 

Green Bay's desire to improve the defensive line became evident when the team left the starting front in the game with the second-team defense.

This doesn't mean that linebackers such as A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews and free-agent acquisition Julius Peppers won't be called upon to stand up to opposing rushing attacks. It only reflects a new emphasis on speed and aggression from all positions when defending the run.

We might even expect Matthews and Peppers to have more freedom to rush the passer if down linemen prove efficient when defending the run. 

If successful, this new philosophy should greatly benefit the Packers as they attempt to make another run at a Super Bowl appearance.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Green Bay resides in a division that features a number of talented running backs. The NFC North boasts the likes of Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Reggie Bush. Limiting the production of guys like these would go a long way toward the goal of a division title. 

An improved run defense would also be a boon in the postseason for Green Bay, as projected NFC contenders such as the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers rely heavily on the ground game.

If the Packers' run defense can shut down opponents in games that count, like it did against the Rams on Saturday, this could develop into a very dangerous team come playoff time.