Packers' Jekyll and Hyde Run Defense Prepares For NFL's Elite Runners

G DCorrespondent ISeptember 26, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20: Running back Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the football as he is grabbed by linebacker A.J. Hawk #50 of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Bengals defeated the Packers 31-24. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

The Packers’ defense should thank Cedric Benson.

What better way to prepare for facing Steven Jackson and Adrian Peterson than by giving up 141 yards, 12-yards at a time? Better to know your run defense needs work before you’re in the midst of a two-week span against two of the NFL’s most dangerous backs.

“Sometimes you’re going to have some bumps in the road,” Packers’ defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said of the run defense's poor performance against the Bengals.

Wherever the bumps in the road were, they didn’t stop Benson from rolling early in the game. He had six runs of 10 yards or more and averaged 4.9 yards a carry. The entire defense had guys making poor decisions, not giving enough effort, and missing tackles. But the Packers’ defense showed some ability to adjust.

“Maybe somebody gives you something a little bit different that you don’t expect and you have to take time to adjust it on the sideline,” Trgovac said. “And that’s a lot of what happened in that game.”

The in-game adjustments did seem to yield some results. In the second half, Benson only had one run of over 10-yards and was tackled for a loss multiple times. The team hopes a week’s worth of focusing on the run defense will yield more improvement.

“One thing about these guys here—and what [defensive coordinator Dom Capers] does a great job with—is we went into that meeting, we showed them the mistakes, we corrected the mistakes, and held them accountable," Trgovac said. "And then it's time to move on and work on the Rams."

Indeed, Benson was just the warm-up act. This week they face Steven Jackson, before the headliner against Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. How the run defense responds could make or break the season.

Jackson only has 171 yards in two games with St. Louis’ ‘Lamest Show on Turf.’ Despite his offensively-challenged team, Jackson averages a healthy 5.2 yards a run.

“He’s a big guy,” Packers running back coach Edgar Bennett said of Jackson. “He’s a very good receiver out of the backfield. He has power. He has the ability to make people miss. And he breaks tackles. That’s the bottom line. And I also think, when you talk about a complete back, he’s a guy who never comes off the field.”

Peterson’s numbers look even better. He leads the league with 272 yards in two games and has a 6.8 yard per run average.

What can the Packers do to stop these guys?

“You just tighten things down,” Capers said. “Know that you’re going to play backs like that, and those are two of the really good backs in the league. We have to do a nice job of being able to play gap-control defense, get off blocks and then tackle well; because they’re both physical runners.”

The Packers did have success stopping the run in Week 1 against Chicago. Matt Forte was held to just 55 yards on 25 carries. I’m not a math guy, but 55 divided by 25 equals consistently good run defense.

These Jekyll and Hyde performances cast some doubts about the defense going forward. Whichever run defense shows up, the one that was so gracious to Benson or the one that shut down Matt Forte, will probably be the difference between success and failure for the Packers; in the next two weeks and throughout the season.

“So, we have another challenge ahead of us,” Trgovac said. “In the NFL, that’s a challenge every week. You have to have a priority of stopping the run in this division. We put a lot of emphasis on it this week and we’ll see how we respond to it.”