Run Defense Facing Big Test

Jolly (John Grieshop - Getty Images)

Green Bay's ascending run defense, which ranks fifth in the league, will be short-handed against Baltimore without Clay Matthews and Brad Jones. Among the keys has been the return of Johnny Jolly.

Since the start of the season, the first order of business for the Green Bay Packers' defense has been to stop the run.

"That's where everything starts with us," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Friday.

So far, so good.

The Packers rank fifth in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 86 yards.

Their highest position in the league pecking order this season has conjured up comparisons to Green Bay's defense in 2009, when the Packers in their first year with Capers as coordinator finished the season No. 1 in run defense.

Their next task is stopping All-Pro running back Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Green Bay (2-2) will be short-handed in the road matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champions with pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews and inside linebacker Brad Jones out.

Jones suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of the second half of the win over Detroit last Sunday, while Matthews left that game after three quarters with a broken thumb.

Matthews, who underwent surgery this week, is expected to be sidelined three to four weeks, coach Mike McCarthy indicated after practice Friday.

"That's what they're telling me," said McCarthy, referring to the team's medical staff. "But as we know, (with) these things, it's an injury obviously in an area where you have to be smart because you don't want a reoccurrence."

Veteran nose tackle Ryan Pickett, part of a deep defensive line that has contributed to the Packers' success against the run, is probable for Sunday's game after suffering a hand injury in practice.

"It's football," Pickett said Friday. "I just got it banged up pretty good. It's a little painful, but if you ain't in pain, why are you playing? No broken bones or anything, that's all I cared about."

In his eighth year with the Packers, Pickett is the longest-tenured defensive lineman on the team's current roster.

Pickett didn't hesitate when he gave an affirmative answer that this is the most depth Green Bay has on its defensive line since he left the St. Louis Rams and signed with the Packers as an unrestricted free agent in 2006.

"Oh, yeah, we're deep. Everybody can play," Pickett said.

And the results have been to the Packers' liking so far.

"We feel good about how we're playing the run," Pickett added. "We just like our matchup with anybody. We've got some good guys who can play the run. We're strong up front, and that's one of our strong points of our team. So we've got to take advantage of that."

The Packers have bottled up a couple talented backs already.

They held San Francisco's Frank Gore to 44 yards on 21 carries in the 49ers' narrow season-opening win.

Detroit's Reggie Bush had the same yardage total on 13 rushing attempts in Green Bay's last game.

"I think our defensive front has played well against the run," Capers said. "We've got some big guys up there."

Among the heaviest is Johnny Jolly, listed at 325 pounds on the roster.

Besides perhaps tipping the scales in Green Bay's favor along the line, the return of Jolly, 30, to football and the Packers this year after he sat out the previous three seasons because of a drug-related NFL suspension has been uplifting.

"I'm glad he's here," McCarthy said. "I'm very proud of him, personally. He's a unique individual. He's added an attitude and edge to our football team that's definitely contagious, and he's playing good football. I think we're utilizing him correctly as far as his reps and when he's playing. I've been very pleased with what Johnny's done."

And just like in 2009, when Jolly last played for the Packers, the defense is establishing itself as one of the league's best for keeping opponents' rushing attacks under wraps.

"Coincidence, right?" said defensive end B.J. Raji, a rookie four years ago when Green Bay allowed an average of only 83.3 rushing yards.

Striving to be No. 1 against the run is a goal this season, augmented by the strong start.

"I think it's shades of what's to come," Raji said. "I think we're constantly improving. We obviously have a tough challenge this week, this is a good team, a good offensive line."

Slowing down Rice is a priority this week, never mind his numbers have been down in the early going after he suffered a hip injury in Week 2.

Rice, who is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry, is coming off a 74-yard, two-touchdown performance on the ground in the Ravens' win at Miami on Sunday.

"When you're playing this team, they're a team that has a commitment to the run, so we can't let 'em get their run game going," Capers said.


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