Defense stiffens as Guion settles in
Walking through the Green Bay Packers' locker room Monday, defensive tackle Letroy Guion still was giddy. At least as giddy as a 6-foot-4, 315-pound man with a booming, bass voice can sound.
The images were fresh in his mind. Less than 24 hours after a thrilling victory in Miami, Guion recalled the exhilaration. He gushed about how everyone came together. First, the defense got a stop. Then quarterback Aaron Rodgers converted the momentum into magic.
Guion remembers the feeling he had as a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, when former Packers quarterback Brett Favre led the Vikings to the NFC championship game. Each week, another trick up Favre's sleeve. Sunday felt similar.
"Now, with Aaron Rodgers, I'm just very blessed to be on a team like this. To actually see these type of actions happen before my eyes," Guion said. "So far, it's almost like the heaven of football. I don't think it can get no better than here. We have a great team, great teammates, great coach, great coaches. I mean, a great organization. Everything is great about the Green Bay Packers. I'm glad I'm a part of that."
His introduction wasn't smooth. Guion missed almost four weeks of training camp with a nagging hamstring injury, valuable time to integrate himself within the defense.
There was no time to ease into a new scheme once Guion returned in late August. That one-year, $985,000 prove-it contract he signed with the Packers this offseason came with expectations. Guion was brought here to play an important role in the middle of Green Bay's defensive line. When nose tackle B.J. Raji's season ended in August with a torn biceps muscle, the urgency only grew.
So with just a handful of practices and one preseason tuneup, Guion was in the starting lineup when the Packers opened their season against the Seattle Seahawks. He played 32 snaps in Seattle, 39 the next week against the New York Jets, and struggled in both games.
This wasn't exactly hitting the ground running. Guion was just trying to keep up.
"It was about after the second game I started to catch my wind," Guion said. "At first, it was a little rough on me, on my breathing. As the games go on, as these weeks stack on top of each other, I just look forward to getting stronger and stronger."
Gradually, Packers coach Mike McCarthy started to notice a difference.
These past three weeks, especially, McCarthy said Guion has been a force inside. McCarthy thought he turned a corner in Chicago, recovering from early mistakes. These past two weeks, he's been arguably the Packers' best defensive lineman.
Guion had four tackles, two for loss, and 1½ sacks against his former team at Lambeau Field. More impressive, once the grudge match with the Vikings was behind him, Guion had another solid outing in Miami.
Against the Dolphins, Guion finished with two tackles and a plus-2.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, including a plus-1.9 in run defense. He created havoc along the line of scrimmage, especially during a goal line stand in the first half.
On second down, Guion blasted through the offensive line and stuffed Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno. On fourth down, he made a pile in the backfield, allowing cornerback Tramon Williams and safety Morgan Burnett to stop Moreno. The two plays showed his comfort in the Packers defense.
"They was running a little zone read, inside zone, and we'd been watching film all week," Guion said. "We noticed what they liked to do down there on the goal line, and we noticed they just liked to run inside zone down on the goal line. I was prepared for that, I seen it coming, and I slipped through the gap and got a tackle there."
Green Bay's rush defense still ranks last in the NFL with 154.5 yards per game, the byproduct of allowing two opponents to run for more than 200 yards this season. Still, there's been improvement lately. After coughing up 235 rushing yards to the Bears, the Packers allowed a combined 223 yards to the Vikings and Dolphins these past two weeks.
It's no coincidence Green Bay's improvement stopping the run has come with Guion settling into the defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been pleased with Guion's presence inside, especially in Miami.
"He was active," Capers said. "You see he's a big, strong guy, and I thought he had a number of plays where he was disruptive up front. When you look at the goal-line stand down there, I think our guys up front were penetrating and knocking their guys back. You didn't see any movement off the ball. You saw our guys were initiating the movement and penetrating and playing on their side of the line of scrimmage.
"I think he's getting more comfortable. He could be a factor up front because he's a 320-pound guy that has some strength and athleticism and some quickness, so he can be disruptive up front."
Capers thought Guion was capable of providing this spark. The Packers signed him for his ability to defend the run and pass, but also for his veteran experience. On the field, his voice is heard.
Now, his play on the field also is rounding into form.
"It's always good to put back-to-back games together," Guion said. "Over my career, it was a bit of a knock on me that I was inconsistent. … I just want to get better and better each week little bit by little bit, and I think that will take care of itself."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood