Defense shows its intentions early
Packers swarm Peterson, pressure Bridgewater
Minneapolis — On the very first play from scrimmage Sunday at TCF Stadium, the Green Bay Packers posted a notice on the door shielding them from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson.
As the shotgun snap sailed to Bridgewater, nose tackle B.J. Raji got into the left shoulder of center Joe Berger and drove him into the backfield, defensive end Mike Daniels shot past guard Brandon Fusco and into the legs of Bridgewater and linebacker Julius Peppers came off the ball so fast that left tackle Matt Kalil tackled him around the ankles because he couldn’t execute his cut block.
Sure, it was a screen pass so some penetration was expected, but the play was attacked so aggressively that the Packers blew it up, thereby informing the Vikings they would be knocking on their door all day long.
“These types of games can define who you are as a team,” Peppers said after the Packers dumped the Vikings at their own place, 30-13, to forge a twoway tie for the lead in the NFC North. “Everyone has to step up to the challenge in these games, and I think we did as a team.
“I think it was a great sign for us as a defense in this moment.”
It was a great sign for coach Mike McCarthy that they played their last play, and pretty much every one in-between, the same way they played that one. They sought to keep Peterson in check, but more importantly, devour a Vikings offensive line weakened by injury.
Down after down, the Packers defense swarmed Peterson and pressured Bridgewater, winning one-onone matchups up and down the line. Bridgewater had come into the game having been sacked 24 times in nine games and left with six more, one fewer than a season high allowed against Denver.
In addition to the six sacks, Bridgewater was knocked down four times and forced to scramble four times.
He completed 25 of 37 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown, but led just two scoring drives.
“I think we have been doing a pretty good job of pressuring the quarterback all year, but we just haven’t finished sometimes,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who went a fifth straight game without a sack. “Tonight, we got some good pressure on him and finished with sacks as well.
“All that matters is the penetration and the disruption we were getting overall. If you’re able to not allow the quarterback to get rid of the ball comfortably, then you put your defense in a good place.”
After 42 straight games with at least one sack, the defense went three games without one, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers kept saying they would come.
They finally did, and the fact they didn’t come from Matthews might be the most encouraging thing about it for this defense because there’s less reliance on him.
Datone Jones, who is splitting time now as an outside linebacker and inside pass rusher, led the way with two sacks and two quarterback hits. Peppers, Daniels, linebacker Nate Palmer and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix added the other sacks.
“They set the tone,” safety Morgan Burnett said of the front seven. “You see them busting their butt, you feel like you better not let them down.”
Holding Peterson to 32 yards on nine carries in the first half (45 yards on 13 carries for the game) made it possible for the Packers to turn up the heat on Bridgewater in the second half.
Earlier in the week, Matthews had said that it was a matter of each player staying in his gap and waiting for Peterson to come to him rather than trying to chase him.
Peterson has made a living out of bouncing plays outside when someone runs out of his gap. The combination of Raji, Daniels, Mike Pennel and Letroy Guion was able to shove the interior of the Vikings line back play after play, making it tough for Peterson to get going.
“Offensively, we just have to be better running the ball, getting a push upfield and protecting Teddy,” Peterson said. “It was just kind of out of sync today for whatever reason.”
A good sign a team is not winning the one-on-ones are the number of penalties it commits. The Vikings offensive line committed four of the Vik- ings’ eight penalties, including three holding calls, two by Kalil.
Asked if the offensive line issues were the result of the Packers being the more physical team, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he wasn’t sure.
“I know we got beat some,” he said. “I know we had some mental errors, too.”
One of the biggest moments for the defense came at the start of the second quarter, a series after tight end Kyle Rudolph had gotten behind safety Micah Hyde for a 47-yard touchdown catch that gave the Vikings a 6-3 lead.
On third and 8 at their own 22, Bridgewater scrambled out of the pocket, but Jones was waiting for him. Bridgewater put a nasty move on him and got upfield for a 9-yard gain and a first down.
The Vikings were back on the move. But on the very next play, Jones, playing more stand-up linebacker than he has before, patiently waited for the blocking scheme to ignore him before taking his shot at Bridgewater.
Right tackle T.J. Clemmings waited for Jones and then turned his attention inside to Daniels when Jones didn’t come.
Peterson waited in the backfield to see what Jones did and then released in the flat. As soon as he saw that, Jones took off and chased Bridgewater until he dropped him for an 18yard loss.
“It sucks when they get away,” Jones said. “It’s the worst. You’re just giving it away. Those plays you can’t make up. But when you get a chance to make a play, you’ve got to make it.”
The rest of the half, the Vikings mustered almost nothing and when the Packers grabbed a 19-6 lead after the opening possession of the third quarter, Minnesota had to switch over to catch-up mode and forget about Peterson.
The lone big play was a 33-yard completion to Rudolph with Burnett in coverage that set up a touchdown to make it 19-13 with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
But the Packers offense scored on its next possession and Burnett made up for the long pass he allowed by stripping Peterson of the ball inside Packers territory, a fumble teammate Sam Shields recovered.
“I think everything for us was working tonight,” Peppers said. “We had great effort by all of the guys upfront. They got penetration all day, and we tackled well on the back end. The penetration allowed us to play fast all night.”
Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater during the fourth quarter Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium.