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Defense first? Packers win with different brands of football


What started out as a training camp joke may actually become true before the final week of the regular season. The Green Bay Packers look like a defensive football team despite having the reigning two-time MVP at quarterback.

“We’re a defensive team now,” Aaron Rodgers joked in July. “It’s one of the best defenses on paper we’ve had.”

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At the time, Rodgers expected the offense to get their ass whipped almost every day on the training ground. For the most part, that proved to be true as the offense adjusted to life without Davante Adams while dealing with injuries.

Meanwhile, the Packers had what looked like a full defense with seven first-round picks. But when the regular season officially kicked off against the Minnesota Vikings, they learned that games aren’t won on paper.

Coverage outages and miscommunication allowed Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson to explode for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a 16-point loss. The atrocious performance of the Green Bay defense was breathtaking to say the least, judging by the talent at their disposal. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of the disappointment.

The Packers were going on a five-game losing streak midway through the season, watching a defense fail to mount a struggling offense while allowing 23.8 points per game during that streak.

Green Bay would be revitalized with an overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10, but only for a while. They would lose their next two games by allowing Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill to carve them before Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts rushed for a franchise-record 157 yards by a quarterback.

Seated at 4-8, everyone wanted answers. Specifically, why the defense was playing so poorly.

Frustration had set in with Joe Barry’s plan, which didn’t seem to make weekly adjustments to change his situation. Many have called for his firing, but rather than part ways with his defensive coordinator mid-season, Matt LaFleur refused to single anyone out, instead putting the blame on everyone, including the players.

“It’s never just one person,” LaFleur said. “It starts with myself, then it goes to our assistant coaches, then to our players. We are all in the same boat. If I was sure it was one person, I would identify him.

Then Barry’s defense started doing something it had failed to do most of the season: creating turnovers. In the first 12 games of the season, the Packers had forced 12 turnovers. In the last four games, they have tied the total.

It started in Week 13 with a confidence-boosting win over the Chicago Bears 3-10. After scoring a late touchdown to go up 26-19, corner Keisean Nixon ended the game with his first career interception.

After a bye week, Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield would throw a costly interception at Rasul Douglas with his team down 12 points early in the fourth quarter. That led to a visit to Miami on Christmas Day, where Tua Tagovailoa threw three second-half interceptions and allowed Green Bay to escape with a 26-20 win.

The next opponent would be the same attack led by Jefferson by accumulating 395 yards at the start of the season. Unfortunately for Minnesota, it wouldn’t be the same defense.

The game started with a 105-yard touchdown return from Nixon and then a 75-yard six from Darnell Savage. Before the Packers offense took the field, they had a double-digit lead.

For the rest of the game, Barry’s defense had adapted to the NFL’s best receiver, including putting Jaire Alexander on him for most of the game and rolling covers in his direction to provide plenty of help. Unable to rely on his primary target, Kirk Cousins ​​threw three interceptions and was sacked by Kenny Clark, who also picked up the fumble.

During their four-game winning streak, Green Bay’s defense forced nine interceptions and three fumbles. They’re also allowing a 17-point-per-game improvement, and the coverage and miscommunications that plagued this unit earlier in the year have been much less prevalent.

“Guys are playing against each other. Certainly communication is a big part of getting everyone on the same page and being able to go out there and perform, but I think our guys are just playing a lot better and with a lot more passion. ,” LaFleur said Monday.

Meanwhile, the offense has done a good job of not relying on the heroic play of their Hall of Fame quarterback that was needed in previous years. Over the past four games, the Packers have found a good balance between their running and passing game, averaging 202 passing yards per game versus nearly 139 yards rushing per game.

As a nice change, Rodgers doesn’t have the responsibility to make every play. He has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game this season and will likely finish with the lowest passing yard total of his career after starting in every game. To make up the difference, his defense produces turnovers at an incredible rate, making it easier on an offense that can focus on efficiency.

For now, Rodgers no longer carries the weight of the offense, and the offense no longer carries the weight of the Packers. All the summer talk about Green Bay being a defensive football team may have finally come to fruition.




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