Peppers a plus, but Packers' run defense needs work; GB goes into 2nd half with 5 of 8 at home

If Julius Peppers is going to get more plays as a receiver, he may want to work on pass-catching skills during the Green Bay Packers' bye week.

Fortunately for the Packers, catching touchdown throws from Aaron Rodgers wasn't what Peppers was signed to do in Titletown.

The veteran pass rusher has been productive on defense in his first season in Green Bay. He's not going to dwell on the pass in the end zone he juggled for an incompletion, or the defense's embarrassing second-half showing in a 44-23 loss last week to the New Orleans Saints.

"When you get kind of off-balanced, it sets you back," Peppers said. "We're going to get it corrected."

According to the Packers, Peppers and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt are the only players this season who have at least one sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a defensive touchdown.

Coach Mike McCarthy has marveled about how Peppers' veteran influence has rubbed off on teammates. While Peppers gets fiery on game days, he is relatively calm off the field.

"Me personally, I'm just going to get away. It's not going to eat at me," Peppers said about his plans for the bye week. "This doesn't need to sit with anybody. It's an opportunity to learn. We got beat, you accept that and you move forward from it."

Green Bay (5-3) is in relatively good shape at the break, a game behind Detroit in the NFC North. Five of the Packers' last eight games are at home, in the cold comfort of Lambeau Field.

The bye comes at an especially opportune time for Rodgers, who tweaked his left hamstring against New Orleans. Rodgers, who has had a good first half, has said he won't miss the next game, Nov. 9 against Chicago.

"So far, so good, I would say is how we're looking at it," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday at Lambeau Field about Rodgers' status.

For the most part, the up-tempo offense is playing well with Rodgers playing pitch-and-catch with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. The running game with Eddie Lacy has been inconsistent; McCarthy has said in some games that is in part due to a lack of attempts.

The Packers seem to be at their best when they're playing at a quick tempo, with Rodgers able to dissect mismatches, and Nelson and Cobb breaking free for big plays.

Lacy's receiving skills have improved, while rookie receiver Davante Adams is emerging as a third option. Green Bay, though, would benefit from getting more production out of the tight end position.

What hasn't been so good is the rush defense, which gave up 172 yards on 24 carries to New Orleans' Mark Ingram, allowing a whopping 7.2 yards per carry.

The league's worst defense against the run (153.5 yards per game) got dented again.

"Our issues on run defense are fundamental. We need to do a better job of staying square, getting (to) gaps and we need to tackle the ball carrier and put him on the ground," McCarthy said.

Part of the problem this year may stem from the loss of veteran tackle B.J. Raji in August to a season-ending biceps injury. Raji had been having a good camp after moving back inside from end in the Packers' tweaked scheme.

Read-option plays have also been somewhat troublesome, having the effect of neutralizing pass rushers Clay Matthews and Peppers.

Still, the Packers had shown some improvement against the run until the Saints game. They held Carolina to 108 yards on 25 carries the previous week and contained dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton.

The defensive positives start with a renewed ability to create turnovers. Green Bay has 10 interceptions and five fumble recoveries. It is third in the league in turnover margin at plus-8 in large part because of Rodgers, who had a six-game stretch without an interception.

"We need to be more than a football team that has to rely on winning the turnover ratio," McCarthy said. "To get where we want to, we've got to overcome when we don't just play to our identity or our format."

What McCarthy will take, though, is a repeat of the first half from Peppers, the 34-year-old veteran who signed with Green Bay in the offseason after being a salary cap casualty of the Bears.

The next time Peppers takes the field will be against his former team.

"I mean, things look like they are happening real fast and the other team is scoring a lot and we can't control that," Peppers said after the loss to the Saints. "What's important right now is how we respond, and I am sure we will do that after the bye week."


AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.


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