De­fense shows its in­ten­tions early

Packers swarm Peter­son, pres­sure Bridge­wa­ter

Packer Plus - - Extra Point - By TOM SIL­VER­STEIN

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.”

MARK HOFF­MAN / MHOFFMAN@JOUR­NALSEN­TINEL.COM

Green Bay Packers de­fen­sive end Mike Daniels sacks Min­nesota Vik­ings quar­ter­back Teddy Bridge­wa­ter dur­ing the fourth quar­ter Sun­day at TCF Bank Sta­dium.

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