Packers 24, Rams 10: 2-minute drill
Defense makes another impressive showing
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 24-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at Lambeau Field, where the Packers improved to 12-0 since the start of the 2014 season:
Thumbs up: Perhaps the fact that the Rams came in ranked dead last in the NFL in total offense means Sunday’s performance by the Packers defense merits another asterisk, just like last week’s domination of the San Francisco 49ers against a seemingly lost Colin Kaepernick. But give the guys on that side of the ball their due: They are playing extremely well, carrying an offense that has been up-and-down while trying to figure out its passing game minus two of its top three wide receivers.
The Rams’ final yardage total (334) was slightly misleading, since 123 of it came on two plays: A 55-yard Todd Gurley run early in the fourth quarter, and a 68-yard Nick Foles-to-Steadman Bailey pass. And neither one of those plays led to points; in fact, both of those drives ended in interceptions. All told, the Packers took the ball away four times Sunday – on interceptions by Quinten Rollins (two) Micah Hyde and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Foles was able to avoid an even higher sack number than the three he absorbed because he proved adept at throwing the ball away while in the grasp.
“I thought collectively as a unit we did a very good job of pressuring the quarterback,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had 1.5 of the Packers’ three sacks. “Like I’ve said in the past, it’s very difficult to block all of us, four or five on a rush. We kind of let up a little bit in the third quarter, which kind of took us out [rhythm], but we got back to it in the fourth quarter. We were able to apply some pressure and force a few turnovers.”
That they were, and after managing just four takeaways in the first four games, the Packers were in turnover mode all day long, starting with Hyde’s pick and continuing through to the second of Rollins’ INTs to clinch the game.
“I believe so,” outside linebacker Mike Neal replied when asked if the Packers have a top 5 defense on their hands. “We just have to continue to play good. I think if you look at where we left off last year at the end of the season, we’ve just been riding momentum and we’ve been able to get plays in the right position and able to make plays. I think that’s been contributing to our defense’s success.”
Thumbs down: Whether the passes are being thrown at home at Lambeau Field, on the road in opposing stadiums or in a corn maze at the local pumpkin farm, 586 in a row without an interception is a ridiculous number. But that’s how invincible Aaron Rodgers had been at home over the past 34 months, coming into the game having not thrown an INT at Lambeau Field since Dec. 2, 2012.
That streak came to an end Sunday, although at least Rodgers could deliver some gallows humor about his two-interception, one-fumble performance.
“I figured I might as well break the streak with a couple,” said Rodgers, who hadn’t thrown two interceptions in the same game at home since 2010. (He threw two at New Orleans and two at Buffalo last season, accounting for four of the five INTs he threw in the 2014 regular season.) “It’s fun to put [a streak] together like that, but I’m sure someone will come along at some point and put up 600 in a row.”
Probably not, but then again, who’d have ever thought with the way Rodgers has been playing that he’d turn the ball over three times in a single game? Sunday marked the first three-turnover game since Week 9 of 2009 season, when the Packers lost at Tampa Bay on Nov. 8 that year. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Rodgers had gone 83 regular-season games without three turnovers in a game, which was the longest active streak by quarterback. Seattle’s Russell Wilson now has the longest such streak, with 49 straight regular-season games. (Wilson threw four interceptions in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers in January.)
Player of the game: For a guy who wasn’t even playing in the Packers’ nickel defense at the beginning of the game, rookie second-round pick Quinten Rollins had himself a day.
On the Packers’ first two defensive series, when coordinator Dom Capers went to the nickel group, first-round pick Damarious Randall came off the bench and lined up outside opposite Sam Shields, with Casey Hayward moving inside to the slot. But on their third series, Rollins was inserted in the slot position, keeping Hayward outside, and he immediately made an impact, snaring an errant Foles throw and returning it 45 yards for a touchdown.
“Green grass. A lot of green grass,” Rollins replied when asked what he saw on the touchdown. “We were in one of our quarters call. Two went out, three came to me from the other side, and I just made a break on the ball. It was a pick-six from there. It’s just a blessing that I finally got my opportunity to make a play. Looking forward to next week.”
More important, Rollins showed some resilience later in the game. After allowing Bailey to get behind him on the 68-yard gain, he came back three plays later to dash whatever hopes the Rams had of a miracle late comeback by picking off Foles again, this time on a pass intended for Tavon Austin.
“Honestly, it just makes me that much hungrier to just keep in tune and to get better, whether it’s on special teams, whether it’s on defense, no matter what it is,” said Rollins, whose playing time had been limited in the first four games. “Obviously, it helps your confidence. Even if you’re a confident person already, it just adds that much more to it and allows you to play a little looser.”
Play of the day: Although the Packers’ interceptions were obviously game-changers, the Rams were on the move with five minutes left in the fourth quarter when Matthews came through with one of his patented perfectly-timed momentum-shifting plays. Facing second-and-10 at the Packers’ 48-yard line, the Rams – down 21-10 and not going away – could only watch helplessly as Matthews lined up head-up with center Tim Barnes, knifed through the A gap between Barnes and replacement right guard Garrett Reynolds and sacked Foles for an 8-yard loss before the quarterback could even complete his drop-back.
“I’m not sure what their protection was. For the most part on similar blitzes through the day – without getting too schematic – they put the back on me,” Matthews explained. “I’m not sure if it was designed that way or if the center should slide, but I’ll take it.”
It appeared that Reynolds, who was replacing an injured Rodger Saffold, should have picked Matthews up, but whoever’s responsibility it was, it was a key play. On third-and-18, Foles settled for a completion well short of the sticks, and when kicker Greg Zuerlein missed wide left from 63 yards, the Packers still had their two-score lead.
“It’s funny, man. Clay’s so hard on himself. Every week he’s like, ‘Man, I messed up here bro. I messed up there bro,'” Neal said. “But the thing I keep reiterating to him and all the coaches is that he’s such an instinctive player, he can play anywhere on this field. I tell him, ‘Just use your instincts Clay,’ and it works out for him.
“[That play was] just Clay’s instincts, man. I’m not even sure Clay is supposed to do that, but he always makes good decisions at critical times in the games, he comes up with big plays. I think that’s pretty much what you saw on that play.”
Inside slant: Clinton-Dix almost wasn’t on the field for his interception with 9:03 left in the fourth quarter. And had the Packers not been so decimated at safety, he wouldn’t have been.
Three plays earlier, Clinton-Dix had been blocked hard by one of the Rams’ guards on Austin’s end-around play and was struggling to catch his breath. Then, two plays later, Clinton-Dix took a stiffarm to the face from running back Todd Gurley and motioned to the sideline that he needed to come out of the game.
But with Capers wanting to go with the dime package – and the Packers with no other safeties on their bench with Morgan Burnett (calf) and Sean Richardson (neck) inactive – Clinton-Dix knew he had to stay in the game.
That’s how he wound up in the right place at the right time when Foles’ pass into the end zone for tight end Lance Kendricks was deflected by dime linebacker Joe Thomas and into Clinton-Dix’s waiting arms for the INT.
“Coach wanted to go into the dime, and we’re short on safeties right now because of Sean and Morgan, and I just sucked it up and turned back around to help my teammates,” Clinton-Dix said. Asked if he would have come out had there been another safety active to take his place, he replied, “No doubt.”
By the numbers:
With his 65-yard touchdown catch-and-run, Packers wide receiver James Jones now leads the NFL in receptions of 25 or more yards this season:
7 – James Jones, Green Bay.
6 – Allen Robinson, Jacksonville.
6 – Rob Gronkowski, New England
5 – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh
5 – A.J. Green, Cincinnati.
5 – Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City.
Quote, unquote: “I was going to have my arms up as long as possible until coach Mike believed me. He’s said if you feel like you’re in, make sure you do something to make him believe. So I wasn’t coming off the field, I was going to leave my hands up the whole time. Glad he challenged it, felt like I was in. I didn’t know, but I just felt like I was in, so good challenge. Big play for us.” – Jones, on waiting for Packers coach Mike McCarthy to challenge him being ruled down at the 1-yard line on what ended up being a 65-yard TD.
Injury report: The Packers lost right guard T.J. Lang (knee), nose tackle B.J. Raji (groin) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) to injuries Sunday. None of the three returned to the game, and only Raji stayed on the sideline. The Packers were already without safety Morgan Burnett (calf), wide receiver Davante Adams (ankle), safety Sean Richardson (neck) and linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring).
Up next: The 5-0 Packers play their fourth pre-bye home game, against the San Diego Chargers next Sunday at 3:25 p.m. The Packers will have their bye week after that.