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Packers' Ugly Win Is a Positive Sign for Playoff Success

Though just 2-2, the Packers have looked a bit different this season. It could be a welcome sight later in the year.

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The Packers 22-9 win over the Lions this past Sunday made little more than a whimper on the national stage. It wasn't a particularly close game, nor did it feature any highlights that stood out over the others throughout the league. Then there was the fact that Calvin Johnson, the best player not named Aaron Rodgers on the two rosters, spent the afternoon standing on the sidelines. All in all, it was a game that produced little drama.

Then again, maybe that's the point.

Ultimately the Packers got the win, which is the important thing. But while watching the game, it wasn't so much that they won that stood out to me. It was the manner in which they did it. This wasn't the high octane, box-score filling, fantasy team crushing, stat orgy of 2011. Aside from James Jones' 83-yarder (which included plenty of YAC), there were no deep, arcing rainbow throws. Instead, the Packers won in a way few saw coming - by physically whipping the Lions at their own game.

This wasn't exactly the Packers out-muscling the 49ers or overcoming a psychotic J.J. Watt bleeding from the beak, but still. The Lions possess one of the most menacing defensive lines in all of football. I've given Ndamukong Suh plenty of grief here on these pages but the fact is, the guy's been on a rampage this season. Had you told me beforehand that the Packers would run the ball at that same defensive line more times than they passed, and that they'd walk away largely with field goals, I would've guessed the Lions - even without Calvin Johnson - were winning that game.

Instead, the Packers offensive line manhandled the Lions for the most part, paving the way for their 230 lb. Humvee of a running back to do what he does best. And while Mike McCarthy's play calling has been debated, his strategy in running right at the heart of the Lions biggest strength was ballsy, to say the least.

Yes, the Lions game is a small example but it speaks to a bigger picture. With Eddie Lacy at running back and an offensive line that Football Outsiders has ranked as the best run blocking unit in the league, the Packers have given themselves a dynamic they haven't had in their past two playoff games - the ability to grind defenses down when the passing game isn't working or the weather turns to hell.

The running game is just one example.

Throughout the Packers' entire roster, there's evidence of a team designed for the playoffs. Where the passing game used to routinely work in long, home run attempts to Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson over the top, the current iteration reminds me a lot of the 2011 Patriots - a team that worked by gashing opponents up the seams, exploiting the space defenses gave them, and by being content with moving the ball 7-10 yards a pop. If they get more (which the Packers receivers are plenty capable of), then great. I'd hardly call the offense more conservative, but they certainly look more focused on ball control and sustaining long drives. And because Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, it hasn't come at the expense of explosive plays (see also: Jones, James).

Then there's the defense. It's a unit that's taken plenty of crap over the last two years for not being ‘tough' enough. I never subscribed to that theory, but I have to admit, they've looked suddenly kind of badass out there. Maybe it was them turning up the dial on their intensity. Or maybe they're just fresher later in the game.

As Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel pointed out late last week, B.J. Raji has seen a reduced role in the defense's sub packages, making way for big-bodied hybrids like Mike Neal and Datone Jones to apply pressure. Part of that is due to Neal's and Jones' sheer talent at getting to the quarterback, but it also speaks to the depth the Packers now have on defense. Where Raji and the timeless Ryan Pickett were once relied on heavily to stop both the pass and the run game, the Packers' newfound flexibility allows Dom Capers to rotate in fresh bodies in Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly and Datone Jones.

What's the result of all this? The Packers have the #1 rush defense in the league.

Guess Dom Capers and Co. took that whole "the 49ers ran all over you guys" thing seriously. It's not just the front line, either. The Packers depth also includes a small army of young, physical linebackers and defensive backs. From Micah Hyde to Casey Hayward (whenever the hell he comes back) to Nick Perry and Morgan Burnett. It's a group that with their youth (and a bit of luck in staying healthy) should still be fresh once January rolls around.

And while I've never bought into the idea that a ‘blueprint' can be written in how to beat a certain team, it's hard to argue with the commonalities that exist in the past two playoff losses. Obviously, actually making the playoffs is priority number one right now. But with a suddenly bullish running game, imposing defense and the ever-dynamic aerial attack, one thing's for sure:

They're going to be a handful once they get there.

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