The Packers defense has been an interesting saga. Lots of new faces, young talent, veterans stepping up their game, and overcoming injuries. This week brought more of the same.
This year the Packers have been a defense in transition. There are plenty of young guys making their way up the depth chart and turning heads while at the same time some key veterans have stepped up their game. This dynamic has helped the Packers defense improve drastically over last year’s pile of "meh" that was put on the field. Complicating matters though are injuries that are piling up. This week’s game captured each of these dynamics, but in the end the Packers were able to contain and frustrate the Rams offense.
Pass Defense Review
Sam Bradford – 21/34 255 YDS 7.5 AVG 1 TD 1 INT 82.4 RTG
Chris Givens – 3 REC 73 YDS 24.3 AVG 56 LG 5 TGTS
Casey Hayward – 1 PD 1 INT 3 Tackles
This is one of those weeks where the Packers defense playing well probably is not a watershed moment because the Rams just don’t have a very good offense. That said, you play who you play and the Packers played this game pretty well. The one passing touchdown that occurred happened when Davon House was beat on a double move and he was caught flat footed, but it was a in garbage time and the entire defense was playing soft overall. In reality House and Hayward were tested often by Bradford. Bradford started with targeting Hayward who struggled a bit early but then shut things down quickly and gain an interception. After the pick Bradford started going after House who kept in great coverage, broke up one pass, and force more incompletions due to good coverage. His lone bad play was the TD catch at the end.
The pass rush was present once again, although given the state of the Rams line it could have been a bit better. Bradford was sacked three times with OLB’s Erik Walden, Clay Matthews, and Dezman Moses getting in on the action. Each of these three also got at least QB hit to go along with their sacks. Not a bad day, but considering that Matthews was working against third string LT and other injuries were piled up along that line the day could have been better.
The best news of the day in pass defense has got to be the fact that the big play was pretty much shut down. The Packers allowed one very large play of 53 yards, but this play came as a part of a broken play. Matthews tipped a screen pass and the rest of the defense was caught flat footed when Givens still caught the ball and hit the whole hard. There was also a 22 yard strike to Brian Quick. The reason I chalk this up as a pleasant surprise is that there were not coverage breakdowns and no receivers running free. Best of all the middle of the field was very well defended from the pass…something that has been missing for many years in Green Bay.
Run Defense Review
Steven Jackson – 12 CAR 57 YDS 4.8 AVG 1 TD 19 LG
Daryl Richardson – 8 CAR 36 YDS 4.5 AVG 11 LG
Erik Walden – 9 TCK 8 Solo 1 TFL
Ryan Pickett – 3 TCK 1 TFL
A.J. Hawk – 5 TCK 4 Solo
The run defense was less impressive than the pass defense, but all in all not bad either. The Rams had four players run the football on Sunday and when you total all of their stats together it comes to 22 rushes for 108 yards. As you can see from their individual performances this fits with what each of the main two backs did as well. It’s solid production for those backs, but nothing to be concerned with for the Packers either….especially considering that the Packers were dealing with a promising back in Richardson and a talented back in Jackson.
Right now there has been pretty positive results with the use of Ryan Pickett at NT. If B.J. Raji stays out much longer, and the Packers continue to be solid against the run as they have been the past two weeks, then they may want to investigate the possibility of keeping Pickett in the center and move Raji to the 5 technique. This may free up Raji for the pass rush a bit more and allow Pickett to do what he does best, soak up blockers and stop the run.
Another vet who has continued his high level of play was A.J. Hawk. Hawk once again showed his ability to move to the ball carrier and stuff the run. Hawk had a pretty good year back in 2010, but this has clearly been his best year since switching to the 3-4, and may be his best year as a Packer in general.
Special Teams Review – Kick-offs and Punting
St. Louis Kick Returners – 3 Returns 82 YDS 27.3 AVG 32 LG
St. Louis Punt Returners - 0 Returns 0 YDS
Tim Masthay – 3 Punts 116 YDS 38.7 AVG 0 TB 2 Inside 20 42 LG
Raise your hand if you thought the Packers would kick an onside kick in this game. For those of you with your hands in the air, keep your hand up if you thought they would do this in the first quarter and after their first score. Anyone? Yeah, me neither. Mike McCarthy is an aggressive play caller and we have seen that streak become even more aggressive this year on special teams. I think I can safely say that this is the best special teams unit that the Packers have had during his tenure. It’s the most talented, the best organized, and the specialists are all in place. As a result we have seen some gutsy decisions that defy the logic of football. The crazy thing is all of them have worked….and all have led to points for the Packers.
As for the conventional stuff, well Masthay is still one of the better punters in the league. He can kick it deep when he needs to and he can kick it short when he needs to. I don’t know what’s more impressive, the no touchbacks this week or the fact that the Rams did not have a single punt return. Great job special teams.