A low-energy showing at Lambeau Field almost doomed the Green Bay Packers last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But in the end, the Packers prevailed, 24-20, with the help of their defense which was more consistent than the offense for the first time this season.
In a game that was not settled until the final two minutes, the pass rush came up clutch for Green Bay on a down and distance remembered in Packer lore for very negative reasons. Today’s musings look into that very final sequence, while also looking ahead to a matchup with the Indianapolis Colts’ stout defense and a quarterback that has had plenty of success against the Packers.
4th and 26...but this time, the Packers’ defense showed up
Although Jacksonville was almost forced to put the ball in the air in an attempt to reach the end zone in the final two minutes of the game, the Packers’ pass rush after the two-minute warning was arguably its best and most attacking of the season.
After reaching the Packers’ 36-yard line on a third-down rushing attempt, the Jaguars tried a running back screen. But Kenny Clark snuffed out the play in coverage while Preston Smith shot into the backfield and forced Jake Luton to throw the ball at the back’s feet for an incomplete pass. On the very next play, Rashan Gary and Za’Darius Smith collapsed the pocket from both edges with Gary registering the sack for a six-yard loss. Then, Gary and Preston collapsed the edges again and, after Gary narrowly missed a consecutive takedown, Preston tripped up Luton as he was flushed out of the pocket for another 10-yard loss. Facing a precarious 4th-and-26 opportunity to get off the field and win the game (shades of the 2004 Eagles making fans close their eyes), the Packers again got supreme pressure from Za’Darius Smith, who got a hand on Luton as he escaped the pocket. Although Smith just missed on a game-ending sack, Gary and Preston were also there to force Luton into a desperation check-down incompletion.
The Packers have had their issues getting their pass rush going so far in 2020, but the final drive was a good sign from the defense as it looks to get in the head of Philip Rivers on Sunday.
Philip Rivers has posted curious stat lines against Green Bay, considering the outcomes
Against the Packers, Rivers posted just a 1-3 record as a member of the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers. But the quarterback’s stats do not necessarily correlate with the results of those games.
In the four meetings, Rivers put together a combined 100.3 quarterback rating, a top-third mark against any of the passer’s NFL opponents, to go along with a sixth-best 8.50 yards per attempt. Rivers also threw for 372 passing yards per game against Green Bay, his highest split against any NFL team. These figures are aided by a 2015 matchup in which Rivers set a franchise single-game record for yards, completions, and attempts. In a losing effort, Rivers finished 43-for-65 that day with 503 passing yards and a pair of scores despite an offensive line that was not at full strength. Even last season, with the Packers at a very similar record at 7-1, Rivers and the Chargers defeated the Packers behind a 294-yard, 108.3-rating, and 10.5 yards-per-attempt performance.
This time around, Rivers will be the beneficiary of a Colts line with plenty of continuity and high-end draft picks to protect him. Outside of a rough showing against Baltimore in Week 9, Rivers has also shown plenty of adjustment to his new cast of playmakers in Indianapolis, posting three 100-plus quarterback rates in his past four games. Emerging target Michael Pittman, Jr. and the team’s running backs Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor have assisted Rivers in the passing game, and Rivers has been getting the ball out of his hands within 2.49 seconds, which is fourth-best in the league.
While there may not be another 500-yard output this time around, Rivers may have the balanced offensive attack alongside a stingy defense to reverse his record misfortunes.
The Colts’ defense may be the toughest the Packers will face all season
An offensive lineup featuring both Allen Lazard and Davante Adams is coveted by Packers fans and, of course, it is not clearly known if either player will be a full-go this weekend. However, having both players healthy and available on Sunday would be crucial to the team’s offensive performance - perhaps more so this week than any other.
The Colts might prove to be Green Bay’s toughest opposing defense of the 2020 season, and certainly the highest-rated defense since facing Tampa Bay. The stats do not lie, as Indianapolis currently leads the league in total yards given up per game at just 290.4 and not surprisingly also ranks second in passing yards (198.7) and rushing yards (91.8) per game. Each of these defensive measures contributes to an average of a mere 19.7 points allowed on a weekly basis, and, even in a loss to Baltimore two weeks ago, the Colts held Lamar Jackson and company to 266 total yards and 4.2 yards per play. Although Indianapolis does not have the headliner names that other defenses may have, the system is a well-oiled machine.
For the Packers, who struggled mightily against the Buccaneers when turnovers and pressure mounted, it will be important to stay on schedule. With the running game figuring to see some struggles against the Colts’ front seven, having both Lazard and Adams to split targets will be a major assist to Aaron Rodgers. But, a week after the Packers had troubles with consistency against a very porous Jacksonville defense, this week will be a major test for Green Bay as they enter their postseason push.