Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman believes the Green Bay Packers can thrive in the playoffs, especially by putting pressure on the opposing quarterback.
"The biggest thing we can't get through the postseason is without pressuring the quarterback, without actually making him uncomfortable, making him move his feet, making him have incomplete throws," Kampman said. "That, to me, is really the essence."
Still, the absence of tangible results the final part of the regular season raises questions about how effective Green Bay's pass rush can be in January, starting with the NFC divisional playoff game against Seattle on Saturday.
The Packers didn't have a sack in four of their last five games. They finished toward the middle of the league pack with 36 quarterback takedowns, the last four coming against St. Louis on Dec. 16.
"We won four out of those five games," linebacker Nick Barnett countered. "Sometimes, it's not going to work out that way (to generate sacks). We're in their face a lot; we're just not getting there a little bit sooner."
The sack drought Green Bay endured prompted defensive coordinator Bob Sanders to blitz more the last few games in an effort to turn up the pressure in the pocket.
The Packers sacked St. Louis QB Marc Bulger four times in Week 15, three by linebackers - Barnett (two) and A.J. Hawk (one). The source of instigation was an anomaly because 31.5 of Green Bay's sacks are the doing of defensive linemen.
In recent weeks, however, a line that lost tackles Johnny Jolly and Colin Cole to season-ending injuries has been hard-pressed to apply sustained heat on opposing quarterbacks.
The Packers averaged 8.5 quarterback hurries and pressures in the first 11 games, but the per-game rate slipped to five in the last five outings.
Kampman, who led the team with 12 sacks, was the only lineman with a sack in the latest stretch. Fellow pass-rushing bookend Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was stuck on 9.5 sacks since Week 12, while early-down end Cullen Jenkins had only one the entire season after being rewarded with a new contract in the offseason.
Jenkins and Gbaja-Biamila will have their work cut out Saturday lining up against Seattle All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was sacked once in their wild-card win over Washington.
"I've learned as a football player - particularly a guy that one of his main job titles is to get sacks - that sacks are important, but so is pressure, so is a hit, so is a disruption of play," Kampman said. "Now, if (the quarterback's) sitting back there just patting the ball, then something's wrong. Our rush, hopefully, will be very, very potent come Saturday."