Poppinga Could Power Packers Pass Rush
Next game: Sunday, December 7th vs. Houston
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- The Green Bay Packers might have solved the problems with their pass rush, and they might've done it with a guy who's been on the team the entire time: Strongside linebacker Brady Poppinga.
Poppinga put his hand on the ground at defensive end a half-dozen times in last week's loss to the Carolina Panthers, and coach Mike McCarthy has said he'll continue in that role this week against the Houston Texans. If it keeps working, Poppinga could give the Packers a second legitimate pass-rusher -- something they've been seeking most of the season.
With two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman acting as a one-man pass-rush (9.5 of the team's 20 sacks), the Packers have been desperate for help from the opposite side, where Jeremy Thompson, Mike Montgomery, Kenny Pettway and Jason Hunter have failed to produce. Struggling pass-rushing specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was released Nov. 1.
It could be argued that Poppinga, who has experimented as a pass-rushing end in offseason mini-camps and occasionally worked in one-on-one pass-rush drills during training camp, should have gotten a chance earlier than this.
"You've got to ask the coach about that. I just do what I'm told," Poppinga said. "I'm just that kind of guy. I leave those kind of questions to the coach because he's the guy running the whole ship. I do what he wants me to.
Asked about the delay in trying Poppinga at end, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said the coaches have "been getting him ready as best we could. He's gotten better and better. We just talked about it and said, 'Hey, let's do it.' We had to get some push on that back side."
Poppinga said readjusting to his old position hasn't been difficult, and while he's having a bit of an identity crisis -- "What am I, a D-end or a linebacker?" he asked -- he did put pressure on Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme twice last Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Poppinga was a split-second late each time, and Delhomme hit Steve Smith for 36- and 54-yard gains on those two near-misses. Each of Smith's receptions set up a touchdown, including the game-winner after the 54-yarder.
"There's a learning curve in the sense that I'm like a rookie at that position, but at the same time, it's all coming back to me very fast," Poppinga said. "That's just who I am -- somebody that can play a lot of different positions. I'm just a football player. Wherever I'm needed, whatever schemes they want to run here, I can do it."
The Packers need another pass-rushing threat to take the pressure off Kampman. Entering Sunday's game against the Texans, the Packers' second-most productive rusher remains Cullen Jenkins (2.5 sacks, 10 hurries), who hasn't played since Sept. 28 because of a season-ending torn chest muscle.
"The league is a passing league," said Poppinga, who has three career sacks. "With the weather starting to turn against us a little bit, teams are going to try to pound the ball a little more, and we haven't really shown that we can stop anybody trying to run the ball on us.
"But at the end of the day, teams are still going to try to pass the ball and the best way to combat that is to have a sound pass rush."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)