Sack parade: How the Packers defense cranked up their pass rush

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There's a perfectly logical reason for this sudden surge in pass rush by the Green Bay Packers.

It's because of their run defense.


It's not as preposterous as it sounds.

Allow defensive coordinator Dom Capers to explain.

"If you can play the run well, then you get in more predictable situations," Capers said Monday evening upon reviewing the six-sack performance in Sunday's 17-3 win over the San Francisco 49ers. "I’ve always felt that if we can get people in predictable situations that we can have some disruption of the quarterback because we have some guys who can rush the passer. Yesterday we did it with four-man, five-man and six-man [rushes]."

Who would've thought this would the Packers' defensive formula after they allowed 189 yards rushing to the Chicago Bears in the season opener?

In the three games since, the Packers have allowed a total of just 271 yards rushing. And 168 of that has come from opposing quarterbacks -- Russell Wilson (78 yards rushing), Colin Kaepernick (57) and Alex Smith (33). The running back trio of Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and Carlos Hyde combined for just 110 yards after Matt Forte ran for 141 in the opener.

Although the Packers still officially rank in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing defense (at No. 21), they actually rank seventh over the last three weeks, allowing an average of just 90.3 yards per game.

"It's a down-and-distance football game and the ability to stop the run, and also it sets up things," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "No different from the ability to run the ball sets up things in the passing game. It all works hand in hand, I mean stopping the run and running the football is A-Number 1 priority from my perspective as far as something I talk to about with the football team."

Enough about the run defense.

How about that pass rush?

With seven sacks last Monday night against the Chiefs and six against the 49ers, the Packers matched their highest two-game total since sacks became an official stat in 1982, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They previously did it in Weeks 8-9 of the 1998 season when they had Reggie White rushing the quarterback.

Perhaps the best part of that stat if you're McCarthy and Capers is that those 13 have come from seven different players -- Nick Perry (three), Clay Matthews (three), Jayrone Elliott (two), Mike Daniels (1.5), Mike Neal (1.5), Julius Peppers (one) and Joe Thomas (one). Last season, the Packers had 12 different players record at least a half sack. A quarter of the way into this season, they've already had eight players get on the board.

"It's ridiculous," Neal said. "I was sitting there thinking about that. I'm like, 'Man, everybody has had a piece of the pie the last two weeks.' We just have to keep it up. It's satisfying enough to do it for two weeks, but we have to do it for 16."

Matthews' role as predominantly an inside linebacker not only has changed where he has rushed from but also has allowed Capers to use a variety of rushers off the edge.

"Well, that's one of the things that’s happened by moving Clay inside, it's giving those guys more playing time outside," Capers said. "We've been trying to rotate them because we have confidence in all those guys out there and they've all produced. The more you play, the more opportunities you get, the better you get. Here the last couple games we've been able to work Clay a little bit out there like we planned on early on before we had the injuries. We like that combination. You saw Clay get a sack right up inside. He had another one he really just missed."

With 17 sacks total in four games, the Packers rank tied for second most in the league with the St. Louis Rams, who come to Lambeau Field on Sunday (the Denver Broncos lead the league with 18), and Capers' unit leads the NFL in sack percentage (13.0), which is sacks per pass attempt.

So how about that run defense?