Green Bay Packers Have A Defense That is Tough to BeatPosted:Nov 15th, 2021 3:56 am
On a day when Aaron Rodgers looked like he hadn't stepped on a football field for 17 days, the defense had his back. And on a day when Aaron Jones limped off with a knee injury, AJ Dillon stepped up and the Seahawks left Green Bay with their playoff hopes blowin' in the wind.
Through ten weeks, one thing is abundantly clear: there is something special brewing with this defense. When you face Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson in consecutive weeks and hold them to a combined 34 points, one touchdown and four picks, you're doing something right. Through ten weeks they're third in the league in points allowed and yards allowed. The Seahawks barely cracked 200 yards of offense and reached the red zone just once--a visit that ended with Kevin King's end zone interception that didn't really look like an interception.
After the game on Sunday, Wilson said his finger felt fine and wasn't a factor in his ugly performance--the first time he'd ever been shut out. But you know he accelerated his timetable a bit, aware that his team's playoff chances were hanging in the balance. He wasn't sharp, that's for sure. But credit Joe Barry's defense for rendering his two stud receivers completely invisible. DK Metcalf was so frustrated he started grabbing which ever facemarks he could find late in the game.
Imagine what this unit is going to look like in the playoffs, presuming Jaire Alexander and Za'Darius Smith are back. Of course it would be helpful if their teammates could stay healthy. It sounds like they avoided catastrophe with Rashan Gary's injury--which looked so ugly Jim Nantz said they wouldn't show it to us. It's a hyperextended elbow and pending an MRI, doesn't sound like it will knock him out long term. Whitney Mercillus was knocked out with a bicep injury, just when he was really getting comfortable in this scheme.
For the first time in a long time, the defense is strong enough to stop the run without a ton of help from the safeties, allowing them to stay back against top level QBs and deal with the passing game--a huge factor in slowing down the three MVP-caliber QBs they've faced the last three weeks.
As for Rodgers, he looked like an almost 38 year old guy recovering from COVID who hadn't practiced in two weeks. He missed some throws he usually makes, threw an inexplicable red zone interception and looked fatigued and worn out. But he battled, used his legs when he needed to and did just enough to get by. I mean, it's not every day the Packers are held to three points through three quarters at Lambeau, even on a cold, windy, somewhat snowy day.
The loss of Aaron Jones is brutal, though it sounds like he avoided a long term knee injury. Early reports say a torn MCL, an injury he has suffered to both knees over the years. Right now it looks like a 2-4 week injury. It would be amazing to get him back after the bye for the Bears game, or even the following week for the toughest game left on the schedule, at Baltimore.
AJ Dillon stepped in to the lead role and showed he's ready for his close up. His 6' 250 pound wrecking ball body just wears defenses down in the fourth quarter, as we saw on the Pack's two touchdown drives that he cashed in on. His 50-yard catch and run was the offensive play of the game. But now the Pack will lean on him for probably 75-80% of the touches, with Patrick Taylor spelling him. Hopefully he'll still have the energy late in games, after getting much more work in the first three quarters. I know we all wish rookie Kylyn Hill was around to be the backup, but I think Taylor has a chance to be very good in a change of pace role until Jones comes back.
Another Sunday, another missed field goal by Mason Crosby. Remember when he started the season 9-9? He and his unit need to figure things out quickly, because the offense is nowhere near as potent as last year's edition right now and the red zone play has not been up to par. He will be needed to win a couple of games down the stretch and this is not an area I'm prepared to be sweating out at the end of games.
This team is tired, banged up and very much looking forward to their Week 13 bye. But first things first, they've got two big games that could have big implications on how the playoffs are seeded. First up, a trip to US Bank Stadium where Matt LaFleur will attempt to keep his record perfect on the road in the division. He's the first coach since the merger to accomplish that through seven games.
A win over the Vikings will wrap up the NFC North. You know and I know the Pack will win the division win or lose next Sunday; the bigger game is the following week when the Rams come to town, with playoff tiebreaker seeding in play. The Rams and their loaded roster will be coming off their bye and the Pack will be dreaming about their own pending bye week. If the Pack can get these two wins, they'll be the overwhelming favorite to claim the top seed, with three home games and just one tough road test (at the Ravens) remaining.
The hits keep coming, and it remains to be seen what the timelines for return are for Bakhtiari, Alexander, Smith, Jones and Gary--five of the team's ten best players. Assuming Rodgers begins to feel better and more like himself, this team has a chance to beat anybody. And not just because he's on the field.
This team's identity is quickly becoming that of a tough, physical, fast, aggressive defense. Yes, the times they are a changin'.