Ground attack set for challenge
Packers know Bears are out to stop Green Saturday, December 8, 2001
Green Bay Press Gazette

Packers know Bears are out to stop Green

By Christopher Walsh

Even though the Green Bay Packers can only speculate about what changes Chicago’s defense will make in trying to stop them, one thing is certain.

The Bears’ top priority will remain the same: stop Ahman Green.

“That’s what I would do if I were a defensive coordinator,” center Mike Flanagan said. “First, stop the run.”

Such has been the mantra for Green Bay opponents, if not the entire league. Everyone knows that when a running back reaches 100 rushing yards in a game, his team wins approximately 80 percent of the time.

Stopping Green has become the battle cry because teams would rather take their chances with the Packers’ receivers and hope quarterback Brett Favre turns the ball over.

“It seems we always see teams put eight guys in the box,” guard Marco Rivera said. “We see them do it to other teams on tape, but not as much as they do with us. It’s because they respect Ahman, they respect his running ability.”

Needing only 31 yards to reach 1,000, Green is sixth in the league in rushing, and second in total yards (1,438). But after starting the season with 157 yards against Detroit, and 116 against Washington, he’s had only two 100-yard performances since — at Detroit and home against Tampa Bay.

“They’re bringing both safeties down into the box now,” wide receiver Corey Bradford said.

On Nov. 11, Chicago tried to do that in addition to its “46 defense,” which is essentially a five-man line, and at times rushed only three men with a two-deep zone, hoping for interceptions in heavy traffic.

It didn’t work, and when the Bears brought in extra bodies, Favre play-actioned and threw into the hole created by the blitzer for big gains.

Green finished with 93 rushing yards on 18 carries, while Favre completed 19 of 32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns in the 20-12 victory.

“I think we’ll pretty much do the same thing,” said safety Mike Brown, the NFC defensive player of the week after recording two sacks and a forced fumble against Detroit. “We really want to stop Green first, and then when we get a chance to put pressure on Brett, we have to do it. He’s a great quarterback and we’re going to have to make some quick decisions, so maybe we can get some turnovers.”

In the three games since then, each opponent first focused on Green.

Detroit tried a five-man line, a strategy defensive coordinator Vince Tobin utilized as Arizona’s head coach against running backs such as Emmitt Smith.

“Our guys really made a terrific adjustment against Detroit,” offensive line coach Larry Beightol said.

The unit didn’t have similar success at Jacksonville.

Green was limited to 31 yards rushing, but thanks to the 42-yard screen that set up the game-winning touchdown, he surpassed 100 total yards for the ninth time in 11 games (Atlanta and Baltimore the exceptions).

All week, the offensive line has taken responsibility for Green averaging 1.8 yards per carry.

“That tells me they have a lot of pride,” Green said.

Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder both turned in 100-yard games as Favre led a comeback for the 28-21 victory.

“It helps us a lot,” Freeman said of the safeties cheating in. “It leaves us in a cover-three or man-to-man situation on the outside. As a receiver, that’s what you thrive on.”

Atlanta also focused on the run — Green averaged just 3.6 yards per carry — but wasn’t as vulnerable at cornerback with Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose. Green Bay’s leading receiver that day was Bradford, with 117 yards on three catches.

Chicago doesn’t have the same talent at cornerback and Schroeder traditionally fares well against the Bears. He had four catches for 100 yards last month.

Chicago’s defense ranks 30th against the pass, giving up 244 yards a game, but that’s a little misleading. The third-ranked Bears have been so effective against the run that most opponents have been forced to pass, and the last team to record a TD throw was Green Bay.

The Packers are determined to run, however.

“You go into every game thinking you have to run,” offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. “You have to have that mentality and that’s what we are. We’re going to get the ball to Ahman 20 to 25 times and look for some explosive plays in the passing game.”

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