Packers’ defense delivers when they needed it

Rodgers: "When they play like that, we're going to be tough to beat"

In 126 days, the NFL will celebrate the golden anniversary of its signature event/national holiday, Super Bowl Sunday.

And if the Green Bay Packers intend to be back at Levi’s Stadium playing in Super Bowl 50, then they will undoubtedly have to win more games the way they did Sunday afternoon.

To be sure, their high-powered, NFL MVP-fueled offense will have far better days than it had Sunday, they will score more points in a quarter at some point in the coming weeks than they did all afternoon. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will make far more plays and take considerably fewer hits than he did.

But know this: For a team whose calling card is offense, Sunday’s 17-3, defensively driven triumph over the San Francisco 49ers was as important a development as anything that’s happened during the team’s 4-0 start to the 2015 season.

“The defense, when they play like that,” Rodgers said afterward, “we’re going to be tough to beat.”

It certainly made them that way Sunday, when the defense not only shut down their Lex Luthor in 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who’d beaten them every which way in 2012 and 2013 playoff defeats, but limited the reeling 49ers (1-3) to just 196 total yards. Of those, only 72 came after halftime, and of those, 47 came on one Kaepernick-to-Torry Smith pass … which didn’t lead to points anyway.

“It shows that we’re where we want to be right now,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had one of the team’s six sacks. “Obviously, there’s always room for improvement but before this game we wanted to finish the first quarter of the season 4-0.

“I feel good about where we’re at. I’ve kind of alluded to it in weeks prior and at the beginning of the season: We were at a real good place [defensively] last year when we lost [the NFC Championship Game]. That’s kind of weird to say, but at the same time, it was about just coming back here and starting with that same momentum [on defense]. And I’ve felt like we’ve gotten better each and every week both offensively, defensively and special teams.

“We’ve got to keep this thing going.”

There’s no denying that if the Green Bay defense, which hasn’t been a top-10 unit since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2010, can play at the level which it did Sunday, then the Packers’ odds of making Super Bowl 50 a green-and-golden celebration increase exponentially.

Not only were running backs Carlos Hyde (eight carries, 20 yards) and Reggie Bush (one carry for no gain) neutralized and Kaepernick (10 carries for 57 yards rushing; 13 of 25 passing for 160 yards with an interception and a 55.4 rating) shut down, but the pass rush took control of the game.

The Packers have now sacked opposing quarterbacks 13 times in the past two games, which according to ESPN Stats & Information is the first time the team has recorded at least six sacks in back-to-back games since sacks became official in 1982. Their 13 sacks over the last two games is tied for their most in a two-game span since sacks became official in 1982, tying the 13 they posted during Weeks 8 and 9 in 1998. (“That’s pretty incredible,” Rodgers said.)

“They always say defenses win championships. So as long as we’re playing on all cylinders, we can’t be beat,” said outside linebacker Nick Perry, who led the way with two sacks. “We’re going to take it one game at a time and just focus on our next opponent, and we’ll get there.”

That said, certainly the Packers’ offense will have the greatest say in the team’s success, and even on what the players on that side of the ball considered to be an off night, the unit was still productive.

Halfback Eddie Lacy ran 18 times for 90 yards to lead a 162-yard effort on the ground, and Rodgers was still 22 of 32 for 224 yards with one TD and no INTs (for a season-low 99.0 rating).

“Sometimes the defense is going to have to carry the offense like they did today, and then there’ll be days where we get in a shootout and have to put up 42, 45 points to win. That’s why it’s a team game,” right guard T. J. Lang said. “They play that well, we’re going to win some games. We’re not always going to score 45 every game. There’s going to be some close ones where we have to find a way to win. And our defense just really, really allowed us to win that game today. They were just outstanding.”

The offense, less so. After dropping one pass in the first three games, receivers dropped two on Sunday; after allowing three sacks in the first three games, the offensive line gave up three Sunday. After converting 43.8 percent of their third-down situations coming in, they managed to pick up just 5 of 15 (33 percent) Sunday.

“We needed that type of effort [from the defense] because we were just a little bit off today,” Rodgers said. “Yeah, it was uncharacteristic. We dropped some passes, we gave up a couple of sacks, we didn’t convert [third downs].

“We had some guys who didn’t have their best days today so we need our defense to play well. … It’s fun to watch. Those guys are talented guys. I go against them every day in practice so I know the type of ability they have. It’s fun to see them play like this and dominate on defense.”

It’s also fun to be 4-0 after three straight 1-2 starts. After preaching the importance of a fast start since the team reconvened in April, coach Mike McCarthy has gotten exactly what he wanted through the first quarter of the season.
“Shoot, we’re not even getting started,” McCarthy said. “This is Week 4 in the NFL. This is normal. This is how it goes. You’ve got to find ways to win these games. That’s the facts of the matter. It’s never as clean as you like and it’s usually not as bad as you think, either. We’ve got to stay real as far as our evaluation and ours self-scout and continue to grow. At the end of the day, it’s about your own football team and that’s what we’ll focus on.”

And right now, 1/4 of the way through the season, it looks pretty good.

“It was a grinder. Every week ain’t going to be a blowout,” said veteran wide receiver James Jones, who led the Packers with five catches for 98 yards. “We need to be in some of them dog fights if we’re trying to get to where we want to go.”