fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Packers steer clear of penalties during run

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It wasn't that long ago when nobody was worse than the Green Bay Packers when it came to avoiding penalties.

Nowadays, precious few National Football League teams do it any better.

Once a popular topic for those questioning Mike McCarthy's coaching, penalties have become a non-issue for a team that has followed an NFL championship with an 8-0 start.

Entering the week, the Packers had 315 penalty yards marched off against them, the fewest in the league. Their penalty total of 43 ranked fourth.

Both are the lowest midseason marks in Green Bay since 2003.

It's rarefied air for McCarthy, whose teams from 2007-'09 had more penalties and penalty yards than anyone in the NFL. The worst perpetrators were special teams, where holding calls became an every-game occurrence, and the secondary, where the cornerbacks couldn't keep their hands off receivers beyond the 5-yard bump zone.

In those three seasons, the Packers averaged 113.7 penalties and 1,015.7 yards.

Last year, the Packers made tremendous improvement, finishing third in fewest penalties (78) and fewest penalty yards (617).

"Well, you get what you emphasize," said Tom Clements, who has been coaching the team's quarterbacks since McCarthy arrived in 2006. "We make a big emphasis on it. We've always made a big emphasis on it. Maybe it's sinking in a little bit more."

Major strides have been witnessed in special teams, where units coached for the first time by Shawn Slocum drew 18 penalties in the first eight games of 2009. Of the 18, 11 were for holding.

Last year, the Packers reached midseason with eight penalties on special teams. This year, they have five (one holding).

Slocum instituted a fresh series of blocking drills in August 2010. Together with McCarthy, they pushed their players harder in practice.

"I think we've got a much better play style now," said Slocum. "It's not something where the coaches and players are saying every play, 'We can't have a penalty on this play.' It's about execution, as opposed to lack thereof. I think there's a focus."

On defense, the midseason penalty total is merely 12, down from 19 in mid-2010 and 22 in mid-'09.

No defensive lineman has a penalty under coach Mike Trgovac .

"We have great coaches, all the way from the coordinator down," safety Charlie Peprah said. "Trgo is one of the best coaches I've been around, and he doesn't even coach me. Just the way he talks to his players, the way he motivates them."

It's remarkable that not one player in the secondary has a penalty other than Charles Woodson, who has five.

"We try to be disciplined," Peprah said. "Teams are so evenly matched, the team that self-destructs ends up losing. We've seen too many films of teams losing games because of penalties. If we don't beat ourselves, we feel nobody can beat us."

The 26 penalties against the offense represent a slight increase from 23 in mid-2010 and 22 in mid-2009. The total includes 15 false starts, six against guard T.J. Lang .

"There wasn't one where I wasn't at fault," said Lang. "Everybody's disappointed. It's just something I've got to take more pride in."

During every practice, any player on offense who moves prematurely is replaced immediately.

Regardless of the platoon, the Packers almost never succumb to the gratuitous shots that often result in personal-foul penalties. Of their two this season, Woodson's was deserved for slugging New Orleans tight end David Thomas, but linebacker A.J. Hawk 's really wasn't.

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said he couldn't recall the last unnecessary roughness penalty on the offense. That's maybe because it came against tight end Spencer Havner in Week 9 of 2009.

"I don't remember our guys doing selfish things," said Philbin. "I think it's a byproduct of the whole system. How we teach 'em. What we demand from 'em. What they demand from one another."

Three weeks ago, Lang faced the ultimate temptation when Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison kicked him in the groin.

His decision not to retaliate was made for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the voices of nearby teammates yelling at him to back away.

"It is contagious when you see the rest of your team playing the right way," said Lang. "It definitely makes everybody else not do anything dumb to hurt the team.

"We don't have a dirty team here, in any way. We play football the way it's supposed to be played."

Injury list: Defensive end Mike Neal practiced on a limited basis Friday for a second straight day but isn't expected to play tonight against the Vikings.

"He went through the one-on-one pass rush but did not do any team," said McCarthy. "He hasn't participated in team drills yet. We're just going one hurdle at a time. I don't have a timeline."

Linebacker Clay Matthews (knee) returned to practice and should be fine.

In Minnesota, the Vikings declared right guard Anthony Herrera (knee) as out. Free agent Joe Berger will start for him.