clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Takeaway, Seahawks vs. Packers: Mike Daniels, pass rush elevate defense

New, comments

Questions remain for the Packers' defense, but the interior pass rush of Mike Daniels solved their worries against the Seahawks.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers still don't know what to expect from their reworked secondary. Davon House just returned from a hamstring injury this past week, rookie Kevin King's contributions will fluctuate as he navigates the up-and-down nature of the NFL, and the depth at outside linebacker already faces its first test with Ahmad Brooks leaving Sunday's game with a head injury.faces its first test with Ahmad Brooks leaving Sunday's game with a head injury.

While all meaningful concerns, they matter less when Mike Daniels takes over a football game.

The sixth-year defensive tackle became the Packers' top defender over the past few years, but the unit still struggled at times despite his strong play. Last year in particular, the pass defense collapsed over the second half of the season and into playoffs.

While one game doesn't guarantee the same fate won't meet Green Bay's defense in 2017, the early indications suggest the Daniels-led pass rush has improved enough to negate the remaining shortcomings. Officially, Daniels registered 1 ½ sacks, a forced fumble, and four hits on the quarterback, a banner day for any player. More impressively, Daniels produced despite regularly facing double teams, often managing to shed his blockers anyway to help collapse the play or reach Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson by himself.

Daniels didn't work alone. Nick Perry made his new five-year, $60 million contract look like a solid investment, recording a sack of his own and combining with Daniels for another. Second-year defensive lineman Kenny Clark also flashed the potential that made him a first-round pick, working alongside Daniels on the defense's many two-man fronts. Moreover, the Seahawks' offensive line remains one of the NFL's worst.

Still, Daniels set the tone for the unit all afternoon, something the Packers need from him every game this season.

Packers missed Bryan Bulaga but managed without him

That Bryan Bulaga ended up on the inactive list surprised most observers. That the Packers' offensive line faltered without his stabilizing presence at right tackle didn't. Along with David Bakhtiari, Bulaga has established Green Bay's starting offensive tackles as perhaps the premier tandem in the league. Bulaga typical walls off defenders from Aaron Rodgers while providing some needed nastiness in the ground game.

Without Bulaga in tow, the Packers turned to Kyle Murphy, the team's sixth-round pick from a year ago. Murphy barely played as a rookie due to strength concerns, but his improved body and technique have elevated him over former second-round pick Jason Spriggs as the team's top backup behind Bulaga.

Murphy made more than a few mistakes in his first NFL start. He yielded multiple sacks and force Rodgers to dance in order to avoid a few more. He also didn't provide much push in the ground game, leading the Packers to lean more heavily on their interior blockers to open holes as the game wore on. All of these issues should concern the coaching staff if Bulaga's ankle injury holds him out for an extended period.

Still, Green Bay didn't have to make many adjustments to accommodate Murphy. The offense ran its usual amount of play action -- which requires the offensive tackles to hold up considerably longer than during typical drop backs -- and tight end Martellus Bennett didn't spend his entire night affixed to Murphy's right hip. Furthermore, the Seahawks have perhaps the best pass rush in the league, a group that would challenge any offensive lineman. Murphy, now with some meaningful regular-season experience under his belt and unlikely to face such a daunting pass rush anytime soon, could look notably better should he start again in Bulaga's stead.

Jordy Nelson looks a touch faster than last season

A look at Jordy Nelson's final stat line from Sunday's suggests the same wideout that led the Packers in receiving a year ago has returned in 2017. He produced 79 yards on seven catches (an 11.3 average) and came down with the team's only receiving touchdown of the afternoon. A quality outing by any measure, but one that highlights the diminished athleticism of a former second-team All-Pro.

However, Nelson's 32-yard touchdown haul tells a different story.

On the play -- one of the multiple in which Rodgers caught Seattle with 12 men on the field -- Nelson lined up in the slot and ran directly down the seam. Nelson quickly passed by a trio of Seahawks linebackers. Nelson also burned Seahawks All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, the premier player at this position.

The wideout didn't showcase that type of speed often a season ago, a lingering effect of the ACL tear he suffered in 2015. Perhaps the extra time has indeed allowed some of Nelson's old speed to return, which would give the Packers a valuable extra dimension in the passing game.