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Packers' defense steals spotlight against the Rams

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Oct. 17, 2011 @ 5:49 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Talk about bending but not breaking. On a day when the Packers' offense took a second-half siesta after a scintillating first-half performance, the defense ended up stealing the spotlight in a 24-3 Week Six victory over the lowly Rams. St. Louis' pedestrian offense crossed midfield nine times and outgained Green Bay's high-powered unit 424-399 but virtually had nothing to show for it, as Dom Capers' unit was once again dominant in the red zone. There were some glitches worth noting, however.

CB Sam Shields came up with the biggest single play of the game when he intercepted a pass in the endzone intended for Rams WR Danario Alexander, but he put himself in harm's way by opting not to take a knee and suffered a concussion that could put his status against the Vikings this Sunday in jeopardy. Rams MLB A.J. Hawk made an equally ill-advised move when he decided to give his teammates on the bench the finger after making a sack — a supposed inside joke that quickly became an Internet highlight which Hawk later regretted.

The PFW Spin

As long as the Packers' "D" continues to tighten the screws when it counts the most inside the 20, its penchant for giving up yards in droves, especially against the pass, can be forgiven. Another positive Sunday was the return of a strong pass rush, with three different defenders (LBs Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk and CB Charles Woodson) bringing Rams QB Sam Bradford down after the team managed only one sack in each of the previous two games.

As was the case last season, the Packers continue to persevere without key injured players. But with Pro Bowl FS Nick Collins already out for the season, the defense can ill-afford to lose Shields, who is expected to be put through a battery of tests this weeks to determine if he will be good to go against the Vikings. With Green Bay's defense operating in the nickel 70-75 percent of the time, Shields' presence is pivotal, as it enables Woodson to function more out in the slot, where he is the most effective. After a shaky start, Shields has shown signs of getting his act back together the last couple of games, and the team could be hard-pressed to replace him, although Jarrett Bush, among other reserves, has been an unsung force.

Matthews and Hawk flew around with wreckless abandon on Sunday. There's strong reason to believe a vintage multisack outing could be on the horizon for Matthews, who continues to play at an ultrahigh level both against the run and pass despite numbers that aren't nearly as flashy as his 2010 stats. Hawk's bird-flipping maneuver overshadowed an excellent all-around performance. While it didn't cause nearly as big a stir as the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz confrontation at the end of the Niners-Lions game Sunday, it was a gesture that raised plenty of eyebrows, considering the linebacker's normally low-key nature. 

"It was kind of a running joke with a couple of my teammates," Hawk sheepishly told the Green Bay media after the game. "I got caught up in the emotion of the game. Sometimes you forget that it's on TV. I definitely want to apologize to anyone whose kids were watching and got offended or anything. I understand. I'm sorry that got out there."

But more post-sack gestures certainly wouldn't be a bad thing, provided Hawk switches from his middle finger to his index finger — a more appropriate show of emotion for a player on the NFL's No. 1 team by a wide margin.

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