The Los Angeles Rams came out trying to quick-snap the Green Bay Packers defense. Aaron Rodgers came out firing to Davante Adams on Jalen Ramsey. Sean McVay went to the wildcat. Matt LaFleur handed it the best trio of running backs in football. One team trusted who they’ve been all season, believing in their strength even against a team suited to match that strength. The other, knowing they were overmatched, resorted to gimmicks on offense and provided no answers on defense as Green Bay got whatever it wanted with Rodgers on the field in a 32-18 win.
Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald dominated headlines. This Rams defense, led by the up-and-coming Brandon Staley boasted the horses to stop the No. 1 offense in football. Against a defense that rarely allowed big plays, the Packers stayed patient, Matt LaFleur stuck to the run game, and hung 484 yards on a supposedly dominant defense to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship Game, the first hosted by Green Bay in the Rodgers era.
No one plays more soft boxes than the Rams, an advantage most teams couldn’t maximize during the regular season as L.A. relied on its speed and virtuoso ability of Donald to handle opposing ground games. They haven’t seen a rushing attack with a three-headed monster like the Packers, themselves a top ground attack. Whether it was Aaron Jones (14 carries for 99 yards), Jamaal Williams (12 carries for 65 yards) or A.J. Dillon (6 Carries for 27 yards), Green Bay picked up key first downs on the ground, dominated the line of scrimmage and relegated Donald to a bystander thanks to a pulverizing performance by Elgton Jenkins.
“Once the game started, it was like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’re going to be able to run,’” Jones said after the game, mentioning the team believed during the week they had a possible advantage in the run game against L.A.
Adams added after the game, most of the run calls were from LaFleur, not checks made by Rodgers at the line. Clearly LaFleur knew his offensive line could handle this vaunted Rams front. Rodgers called the offensive line the stars of the game.
So much for that elite defense.
Rodgers too stayed patient. On RPO’s, he fed his backs against light fronts, rather than forcing the ball to Davante Adams whether against Ramsey or any of these speedy Rams defensive backs. In the third quarter, Rodgers twice had chances to seal the game already holding a 25-10 lead. The soon-to-be three-time MVP missed Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a double-move for a would-be touchdown, then Allen Lazard dropped a potential touchdown of his own on a play-action shot designed to key the Rams on his blocking ability.
Turns out hanging 188 yards on the ground creates some doubt in the minds of defenders.
Rodgers and Lazard eventually hit the dagger shot, a beautiful post off play-action for 58 yards and the touchdown, to give the Packers a 32-18 lead they would not relinquish. Lazard, along with Jones and the ground game, proved Green Bay brings more than just Adams to a battle against an elite defense geared up to stop No. 17. Lazard finished with a team-high 96 yards on four catches, including several key conversions on third down.
Jones’ 60-yard scamper coming out of the half set up a Packers touchdown to give them a 25-10 lead, one that came on the heels of a crucial field goal late in the half. Green Bay gave up a demoralizing touchdown with just 29 seconds left on the clock, but Rodgers found Adams and then Robert Tonyan for chunk plays to set up a 39-yard field goal Mason Crosby splashed to push the lead back out to 19-10.
Those drives, the quick-score opportunities to extend leads, to make up for defensive deficiencies, provide the marginal differences that are so essential to winning in the playoffs when every play, every score, matters just a little bit more.
And though the defensive approach by Mike Pettine, with a lot of three and four-man rushes and soft zone, will be maligned by fans and talk show hosts, the Packers held the Rams under 20 points, sacked Jared Goff four times, and hit him seven more. The run game gave up yards, but Green Bay found the impact plays—the sacks, the batted balls—to keep McVay and Co. from getting into any kind of flow offensively.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the defense held its water. With a chance to tie or take the lead, the Rams couldn’t muster a drive thanks to a drop followed by a second-down sack by Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark who each posted momentous plays to scuttle drives.
Defensively, Pettine didn’t put together the world’s most aggressive gameplan, but holding any team under 20 gives this offense a terrific chance to win, and the Packers offense proved once again, they can score on anyone.
A close win would raise doubts, particularly with two potentially stout opponents looming in an NFC Championship matchup. The Buccaneers worked the Packers once already and the Saints defense put together a stretch unrecognizable from the game they played against Green Bay early in the season.
Going out and stomping the Rams defense, with Elgton Jenkins handling Donald and the offense finding little resistance despite Adams not shouldering the burden in the passing game, proves to LaFleur’s team, fans, and the rest of the NFL that this team won’t come to the NFC title game or a potential Super Bowl matchup thanks to luck or some prestidigitation, as it did last year.
The 2020 Packers can be themselves against anyone, a team capable of scoring points at will, rushing the passer with ferocity, and making just enough plays on defense to win games. Teams coming to Lambeau must resort to tricks and gimmicks, carnival games and slight of had to have to beat them. Green Bay, especially at Lambeau Field, can just be itself. If there were a team this season that could slow down the MVP and LaFleur’s offense, it just gave up 32 points in a playoff game. That’s the best version of what the Packers will face.
That makes it pretty easy to be yourself.