The Packers run defense has been an issue for almost a month, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine would like to be clear: It’s not that he doesn’t think stopping the run is important — even if it looks that way based on the numbers.
“It’s not like we were saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to play Cover-2 every snap and we’re just (OK with) giving up 8, 10, 12 yards a chunk,’” Pettine said.
In last week’s loss to Philadelphia, the Eagles averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a team, didn’t have a single negative-yardage run and got big production from Jordan Howard (15 carries, 87 yards, two touchdowns) and Miles Sanders (11 carries, 72 yards, including a 30-yard run) — and it wasn’t in any way surprising. Now the Packers, ranked 26th in the 32-team NFL in run defense (142.3 yards per game) must contend with Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott (above), who despite missing most of training camp amid a contract dispute comes into the game having carried 73 times for 324 yards (4.4-yard average) and three touchdowns.
The Packers’ ability to limit Elliott’s effectiveness will go a long way toward deciding the game.
“It’s always critical. It’s not something we ignore,” Pettine said. “There are times schematically where we’ll lean one way or lean the other way, but our issues were fundamental. When we went back and looked at the tape, there were some plays I know a lot of guys would want to have back, just from a technique standpoint. We weren’t good enough. That’s really been our theme this week.
“If you want to stop the run, there’s no secret about it; it is basics. ‘I have to recognize the formation, gather that info,’ but then it’s, ‘I have to win my 1-on-1. I have to knock the guy back across from me. I have to locate the ball and separate from the block.’ The thing we stress is, you’re going to get blocked. The key is, don’t stay blocked."