To this point, Pack defense looks super

Week 3 In Review

September 22, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The worst news the NFC could hear is coming out of Green Bay this week. The Packers' defense is back at Super Bowl-like efficiency, and that is ominous for the rest of the conference.

"We're impenetrable," said the Packers' loquacious safety, LeRoy Butler, after a 13-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

And he's right.

That the 3-0 Packers could win on the road, on artificial turf (they're 11-23 on the rug under Mike Holmgren), with their lowest point total in 21 games, says something.

That they have slammed the door on running backs Barry Sanders of Detroit, Warrick Dunn of Tampa Bay and Corey Dillon of Cincinnati on consecutive weeks says even more. Sanders rushed for 70 yards against the Packers, Dunn got just 26 and Dillon was held to 28.

The Packers' run defense -- which ranked 20th a year ago -- leads the NFL after three weeks, giving up 56 yards a game and 2.9 a carry. The Packers haven't allowed a rushing touchdown, ** either.

Even their pass rush is rejuvenated with 12 sacks so far. The leading sacker? Defensive end Keith McKenzie with five. McKenzie, in his third year, was a seventh-round draft pick in 1996.

Not bad for a team that had to replace four starters from a defense that went to the Super Bowl last season.

Call to arms

We're not even out of September yet and already 14 of the 30 teams have used backup quarterbacks because of injury or performance. And one team, the New York Jets, was down to its third quarterback briefly on Sunday when Vinny Testaverde's arm went numb after he wound up on the bottom of a pile chasing a Curtis Martin fumble. Testaverde recovered quickly, though, and Ray Lucas spent the rest of the day on the sideline.

Backups have started nine games in three weeks. They are 5-4, including Dallas' 31-7 rout of the New York Giants last night in which Jason Garrett threw for 222 yards in replacing injured Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

The best of the backups? Randall Cunningham (3-3 since last year in Minnesota), Eric Zeier (2-1 with the Ravens), Rich Gannon (6-2 with Kansas City), and Testaverde.

Bang for their buck

Penalized 31 times in their first two games, the Oakland Raiders cut back to seven infractions in a 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. But typically, most of those were big.

On Denver's first touchdown drive, the Raiders' Lance Johnstone was flagged for roughing the passer, and Eric Allen and Charles Woodson for pass interference. Those penalties accounted for 63 yards in a 92-yard drive.

Missed opportunity

This is what it has come to for the luckless Chicago Bears: In the first half against Tampa Bay, the Bears ran 16 plays inside the Bucs' 16-yard line. And got three points.

In order of disaster, they saw Curtis Enis stopped at the 2 on fourth down, Jeff Jaeger miss a 29-yard field-goal attempt, and Ryan Wetnight fumble at the 5. Their only score in that sequence was a 26-yard field goal by Jaeger.

Incredibly, they held a 15-0 halftime lead. But there were no more golden opportunities in the second half. The Bears (0-3) had just 13 plays and 37 net yards as the Bucs rallied for a 27-15 win.

Boxing in Barry

Barry Sanders averaged 136 rushing yards in his last five games against the Minnesota Vikings. After one quarter Sunday, it was more of the same -- he gained 45 -- and the Lions took the early lead.

But by the second quarter, they were winging it -- literally. The Lions called passes on the last 12 plays of the half -- this with rookie quarterback Charlie Batch making his first NFL start.

Sanders wound up with 69 yards rushing on 22 carries, and Batch 63 on eight rushes. Vikings coach Dennis Green was quick to note the difference after his 29-6 win.

Said Green: "Taking nothing away from [Batch], because I thought he showed a lot of poise, but as long as he's running the ball, and not Barry Sanders, I can live with that."

Sanders did have 10 rushes for 1 yard or less in the game.

Trend-setters

The Ravens are one of three teams without a rushing touchdown. Washington and Indianapolis are the others.

Teams whose quarterbacks throw for 300 yards in a single game are 5-3 this season. Teams with 100-yard rushers are 20-6.

Special teams touchdowns are up this year. There have been 10 touchdowns on punt or kickoff returns so far, compared to six after three weeks in 1997.

Sixteen of the last 20 teams that started the season 3-0 have gone to the playoffs. The ones who missed were Miami and Kansas City in 1996, St. Louis in 1995 and the New York Giants in 1994.

The NFC East is 0-7 outside its division this season, and has been outscored 216-93.

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