- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"I wasn't getting in as fast as usual, either," Davis continued. He pointed to a jagged, fresh scar along the inside of his left thumb. "I got that in the exhibition game against Cleveland," he said. "Tackled Leroy Kelly and hit the ground with my left hand under his buttocks and all his weight on my thumb, then someone else jumped on the pile. I didn't feel any pain, but when I got up and looked down at my thumb the bone was sticking out right at the first joint. I went over to the sideline, but I felt kind of sheepish, you know. Here's me, a big pro football player, coming off and saying, 'Coach, I can't play because my thumb hurts.' "
Davis did not miss any playing time; his thumb was set, stitched up and provided with a brace and he was in the lineup when the season opened. "It hurt my pass rush because this is my pulling hand." Willie explained. "I mean, I hit the blocker, give him a move, then pull him with my left hand when I go. With the brace on my thumb, I couldn't get a good grip to pull and the thumb still got a shock. It throbbed between plays and hurt my concentration. Now I got a different kind of brace and it won't hurt. It should help."
The deferred pass rush wrecked the delicate timing of the Packer defense. "When Detroit beat us [23-17 in the third game of the season], Bill Munson hurt us by setting up quick, then throwing boom," Willie said. "He established a rhythm. In the past we used to break up the quarterback's rhythm. The backs and linebackers had faith in our rush, so they played the receivers close. The quarterback would set up, look, then have to look somewhere else. In that little second we'd either get to him or hurry him. But when we quit getting in so fast, the defensive backs began playing farther off the receivers. That meant the receivers were open quicker and we had even less time to get to the quarterback. It broke up the whole defense."
Willie massaged his sore thumb thoughtfully. "Before we played Los Angeles we talked to the secondary," he said. "We asked them to trust us again, and cover close. We got the defensive line together again. The injuries kept us from developing this cohesion, but I think we got it back now."
Against the Rams the Green Bay defense appeared as solid as ever, Kostelnik played part of the game on his sore knee, then went out for Bob Brown, who played with a thick pad over his broken arm. Later Kostelnik came back and Brown relieved Lionel Aldridge, who had sprained his ankle against Detroit and was still limping. The line performed well, and the Rams' Roman Gabriel, who has been better protected than any other quarterback in the league, was under strong pressure. Once Davis combined with Brown to throw him for a 13-yard loss, and he completed only seven of his 20 passes for a skimpy 97 yards. The Green Bay secondary covered close.
Despite the fact that the Rams' defensive line is one of the best in pro football, the Packer offensive line did a good job of protecting Bratkowski, proving once more that it is not overage in service, as some experts have contended.
At 35, Forrest Gregg, a perennial All-Pro at offensive tackle, is one of the oldest players on the team. His assignment was blocking David Jones, the most fearsome of the Ram foursome. Most teams block Jones with two and sometimes three men but for the most part Gregg took on Jones alone. Gregg was beaten a few times, but he handled himself briskly and well and Jones did not terrorize the Packer quarterback.
Gregg is a grizzled man who looks his 35 years and who plays his position with more finesse than any other player in the league. "I feel just about the same now as I did when I came up in 1956," he says. "Oh, I suppose I may have lost a step in speed, but I don't think I have lost any quickness."
He has been a Packer from before the Lombardi era and he has a deep respect for the former Packer coach. " Coach Lombardi was a more emotional man than Coach Bengtson," he said. "Both of them are perfectionists, but they go about it in a different way. Vince gave us pep talks and gave us the devil when we made mistakes. Coach Bengtson explains to you in detail what will happen if you do what he asks and what will happen if you don't. He leaves it up to us to get ourselves up for a game. By now we should be able to."
Phil Bengtson was the defensive coach under Lombardi for nine years before becoming the head man this season. He took over the most porous defense in the league in 1959, and during his tenure the Packers have never ranked worse than third on defense. He is a soft-spoken, friendly man with none of Lombardi's histrionic tendencies. On occasion he may lose his temper and chew out an errant player, but not often.