The Packers’ halfbacks will face as difficult a passing-game assignment this week as they’ll see all season trying to pick up the blitzes by Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington.
Washington ranks No. 3 in the NFL in sacks with eight, and he’s most effective when the Cardinals run cross blitzes with their two inside linebackers. Paris Lenon, the Cardinals’ other inside linebacker, usually blitzes first and then Washington shoots for a gap behind him. NFL teams almost always have the center pick up the first linebacker on the cross blitz, which leaves the running back to pick up Washington.
“They’re always going to take their lesser athletic rusher and put him on the center,” said Alex Van Pelt, the Packers’ running backs coach, “and give to the back the more athletic rusher.”
With fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) unlikely to play for a second straight game, halfback Alex Green will be the Packers’ primary passing-down back. The size difference isn’t great – Washington weighs about 230 pounds, Green 225 – but Washington is an explosive and high-effort blitzer.
“(Washington) is stout, he’s thick, he’s a quick-twitch guy,” Van Pelt said. “When he makes contact he does an excellent job on second and third effort. So that’s what we’ve talked all week, going in and matching his intensity in the first hit, and then react to the second and third reactions and finishing.”
Van Pelt also has been emphasizing with Green to be more patient in the Packers’ zone-running game. Green has averaged only 2.4 yards on 64 carries the past three games and has left a lot of yards on the field because he’s turning up field into traffic rather than waiting for holes to open, which is a must on the stretch runs in the zone scheme.
“Slow it down,” Van Pelt said. “He’s such a fast-twitch guy that a lot of times the blocks haven’t quite developed yet. But we’re getting there. Just to slow our pace down, tempo, just track down, and then once he sees it accelerate and explode through the hole.”
James Starks is expected to get his share of touches at halfback this week too because of Green’s struggles. The Packers had planned to play Starks more last week against Jacksonville, but his role became more limited because he missed practice Thursday and practiced only part-time Friday because of the stomach flu.
When asked why Starks didn’t practice through the illness with a chance for significant playing time at stake, Van Pelt said: “He couldn’t hold anything down. Nobody wants that on the field. A cold, something like that, even the flu at times is a little different. But when you’re having issues like that with your stomach you have no choice but to stay out.”