The APC authors put our heads together after yet another Packers win, this time coming at the hands of another NFC West team that has been a major thorn in the Packers' sides over the past few years. Here are our thoughts regarding Green Bay's 17-3 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The Packers did what good teams do when they're on the road, when they're missing several key starters, when their offense isn't on their A-game, and when their right tackle is blocking about as well as a houseplant - they win anyway. That the Packers won though shouldn't be a surprise - they were favored by nearly 10 points, after all. It's the way they won.
Aaron Rodgers once again did his best James Harden impression and broke some ankles while reeling off his usual few how-in-the-hell-did-that-happen throws. But by and large, this was a game dominated by a fierce pass rush and stout run defense. Granted, the Niners at this point are a mess. Their head coach is in way over his head, Colin Kaepernick looks lost and frustrated and generally horrible in all facets, and, what seemed to be a bright spot in Carlos Hyde has fizzled in the last three games.
But none of that should take away from how good the Packers defense has been. And it's not just Clay Matthews. B.J. Raji is as good as he's been in five years, Mike Daniels is wrecking offensive linemen every week, and last year's preseason darling, Jayrone Elliott, is proving that he can rush the passer against the starters just as well as he did versus the scrubs. It's still somewhat early, but I'd actually say for the first time since 2010, the Packers defense looks just as good as their offense.
That obviously has something to do with their number one wide receiver being on IR, their number two receiver carrying a bum shoulder, their number three receiver hobbled (and today, not playing at all) by a bad ankle, well, you get my point. But still, the Packers defense looks legit. Aaron Rodgers will still be the guy who makes this team go, but for the first time in a long time, the weight of winning doesn't fall solely on his shoulders.
Listening to the Packers' 17-3 win over the 49ers on the road as best I could (thanks a lot for the spotty service on the interstates, T-Mobile - but I digress), I expect that my perspective will be significantly different from that of fans who were actually able to watch the game. However, it was plain to me that there is one major takeaway from this game:
The Packers' pass rush is back.
Based on the four or five times I heard Wayne and Larry get excited after a big sack and projecting that out based on how much of the game I actually heard, I assume that the Packers had something like eleventy-two sacks on Kaepernick. Ultimately, that's when a Dom Capers defense is effective - when his guys up front are getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing terrible decisions, which in turn give the offense great field position.
It's great to see that taking place once again.
The Packers accomplished something significant Sunday. It wasn't that they crushed former rival, but rather how they crushed their formal rival. Since the team's Super Bowl run in 2010, the defense has occasionally proved good enough to bail out a poor offensive showing, but could not do so on a regular basis.
So far in 2015, that appears to have changed. Right now, the Packers have allowed an average of less than 18 points per game, good for the third-best mark in the NFL. With an undermanned receiving corps and an injured offensive line short-circuiting drives on Sunday, the defense managed to keep the San Francisco 49ers out of the end zone. Though few will credit Dom Capers' group for the win, holding an opponent to three points is always an impressive achievement.
I'm as excited as everyone else about the defense, especially given the lack of any good offenses on the schedule. Clay Matthews may have whiffed on a few conspicuous plays, but he was a constant disruptive force and had a huge role in limiting Kaepernick's ability to scramble. PFF gave him a negative grade, but that might be an even more tone deaf grade than the one they gave Rodgers last week, because while Matthews had some negative individual plays, he is fundamentally what makes the defense work.
When Capers' defense was beastly in the past it had Charles Woodson freelancing. He was good at basically everything and took up a ton of field space in pass defense and run support. Capers has been looking for that guy forever since Woodson got old and left, and as it turns out, he was looking at the wrong position. It's Matthews. It should have been Matthews before last season. I'll bet Capers sits around slapping himself in the head that it took him so long to figure it out. Give him a -1.6? OK, sure. But the whole thing goes to pot if he's not in there and the cascade effect is huge. He's easily the second-most important player on the team, and with Rodgers, is the next-best reason they are the NFL's best team.
It is great to see the defense claim responsibility for a victory rather than the offense for once. Yes, their opponent is a mess and has no clear strength as a team, but it was fun to watch Kaepernick finally struggle against the Packers. This newfound pass rush is definitely something to get excited about, and the front seven is playing as well as I can ever remember. The depth at OLB is finally paying off, and it appears that Perry and Neal can actually be effective when healthy.
Offensively, I loved watching Montgomery and Cobb both getting snaps out of the backfield. This is giving defenses more to think about and gives the offense more weapons to work with. I still can't believe McCarthy decided to go for it on fourth and short twice in one drive, but I love it. All in all, this was fun to watch simply because it was a little unconventional.
If there was anything concerning about the game, Don Barclay was clearly overmatched at right tackle. I know the offense doesn't like to keep backs and tight ends in to help with pass blocking, but some of that may be in order until Bulaga returns. But if one pass blocker is the only negative thing that comes to mind, it must have been a pretty decent game overall.