Dom Capers, the mad scientist, was at it again on Sunday.
This time the Packers’ veteran defensive coordinator reached deep into his bag of tricks in unveiling a 1-5-5 defensive alignment in the Green Bay Packers’ 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
The package, which features one down defensive lineman, five linebackers and five defensive backs, is nicknamed “Psycho.” Though the Packers used it only six times in the game, it was effective early in keeping the Bears off-balance.
But primarily, the unusual alignment was added to help a defensive line that is as banged up as it has been all season.
“That encouraged us to put it in,” said Capers, who in his first year in Green Bay had led the Packers’ defense to the top of the NFL rankings. “Early in the week, we didn’t know what linemen we were going to have. We had a number of linemen who didn’t practice, so you’ve got to try to seek alternatives, and all of a sudden, if you’ve got many guys that don’t practice, you might have to play without them. So you better have some things ready.”
Four of the Packers’ six defensive linemen are dealing with injuries. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett missed his first game in two years Sunday after his injured hamstring failed to respond during pregame warm-ups. In his spot, rookie B.J. Raji got his first NFL start.
During the game, Raji added a shoulder bruise to his season-long ankle ailments. Starter Cullen Jenkins (hamstring) held up well but Johnny Jolly briefly left the game with a back bruise to add to his sore knee.
The Packers combated their injury problems by going “Psycho.” On the game’s first series, Jenkins burst through the Bears’ offensive line to stuff running back Matt Forte for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-3. He was the lone down lineman on the play. Five linebackers behind him jostled around before the snap in an effort to cause confusion.
The Packers used the same package in obvious third-down passing situations over two of the next three series, too. Each time, the Bears were forced to punt. On the second series, Jenkins drew a holding penalty and a screen to Forte was stopped by linebacker Desmond Bishop on a third-and-21. On the fourth series, Cutler threw incomplete to wide receiver Earl Bennett on a third-and-8.
On the other series in that sequence, cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted a Cutler pass out of the Packers’ 3-4 base alignment.
“That’s recognizing what you have,” Woodson said of the 1-5-5. “We have some outstanding athletes and a lot of them happen to be linebackers. We practiced it all week and we felt like it would be a good package for us. You seen the guys out there just flying around. It was fun.”
The Bears totaled just 25 yards on 11 plays over their first four series.
“The purpose of the defense is to try to create identification problems,” Capers said. “Most quarterbacks are going to come up and identify who their down linemen are and then point out the linebacker, so the linemen know who they’re accountable for. We only had one down linemen on the field, so the rest of those guys are moving around so it’s hard to identify.”
Four of the five linebackers usually were used to rush the quarterback. Bishop and linebacker Brandon Chillar, who did not start, helped out in the “Psycho” package.
“We just felt it would be a good combination,” Capers said when asked why he went with those five and replaced starter Brad Jones. “We’ve been trying to find ways to get Bishop involved; Chillar’s come back, he’s more healthy now.”
Even though the Packers mixed their fronts along the defensive line and gave backups Jarius Wynn (10 snaps) and Michael Montgomery (three snaps) more action than usual, Jenkins and Jolly held up well. Jenkins was a beast early with the aforementioned holding and a tackle for loss among his 48 unofficial snaps. Jolly gutted out 49 unofficial snaps, including eight at the nose tackle spot. He had three tackles and a sack of Cutler in the fourth-quarter, though the sack drew a 15-yard face-mask penalty for a first down.
Jenkins and Jolly were the two down lineman when the Packers went to their popular nickel defense.
Raji, on the other hand, played nose tackle almost exclusively (24 of his 25 unofficial snaps). He teamed with Jenkins and Jolly to help the defense make a key third-down stop late in the third quarter. Linebacker Nick Barnett and safety Atari Bigby were the beneficiaries. They stopped running back Kahlil Bell cold on a third-and-1 from the Packers’ 45-yard line when the Packers’ defensive line all but cleared out the Bears’ offensive line. The Bears led 14-13 at the time.
Raji (two tackles) otherwise failed to make much of an impact going up against the Bears’ Pro Bowl center, Olin Kreutz.
“There’s some areas in the run defense we can play better than we did,” said Capers, “but it was good to see him get in there and get a full game under his belt inside.”
The Packers allowed just 59 yards on 17 carries to the Bears, who were forced to go to the air after falling behind 13-0 in the first half. The Bears gained just 254 yards – though with the Jets yielding only 124 against Tampa Bay, Green Bay has lost its hold on the No. 1 defense ranking. In a Week 1 loss at Lambeau Field, the Bears tallied 352 yards, the second-highest total given up by the Packers this season.
“Our defense is in rhythm,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Their play tempo, their play speed, and Dom’s keeping his foot on the gas. There’s a confidence, there’s a trust there. I think this game started and ended with our defense. I’ve very pleased with the way we’re playing on defense.”
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org