Defense makes statement in opening victory
Last January, a scoreless half of football in the NFC Championship Game all but ended the Green Bay Packers’ aspirations of playing for a Super Bowl.
On Sunday, a scoreless half of football to start the 2017 season wasn’t nearly the death blow it was nine months earlier.
The Packers can thank a rejuvenated defense that proved capable of bailing out the slowstarting offense for helping produce a 17-9 win over the visiting Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“This really started with our defense,” Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought our defense played at an extremely high level. You hold an offense to nine points in today’s NFL, that speaks volumes.”
The Seahawks held the Packers’ high-powered offense to zero points over the first 30 minutes. Thanks to the early dominance of the Green Bay defense, Seattle went into the halftime locker room with nothing more than a 3-0 lead – a far cry from the 24-0 advantage held by the Falcons to start last year’s NFC title game.
This time around, the defense kept the Packers in the game and then delivered the game-turning play early in the second half.
Aaron Rodgers and the offense sputtered through five uninspiring plays and punted to start the third quarter, giving Seattle a chance to extend its lead on the first drive of the second half. The sequence provided a momentary flashback to January, when the Falcons forced a Packers’ punt and receiver Julio Jones rumbled through the Green Bay secondary for a 75-yard touchdown to open the third quarter, effectively ending the contest before the Packers had any chance to mount a comeback.
The defense pushed back to start the second half on Sunday.
On first down of Seattle’s first series, Mike Daniels and Nick Perry whipped the Sea- hawks offensive line and met in the backfield to sack Russell Wilson. A play later, Perry and Kenny Clark worked off blocks and stuffed Seahawks rookie running back Chris Carson after a short gain, setting up thirdand-long and a chance for Daniels to change the game.
The Packers needed a spark, and the heart and soul of the defense provided it.
Daniels cleanly beat the block attempt of Seahawks left guard Luke Joeckel to the inside, using his strength to muscle his way into the backfield and his quickness to collapse the pocket in front of Wilson. The Seahawks mobile quarterback had no chance to dance away from Daniels, who jarred the ball loose as Wilson attempted to step up and escape the pocket. Packers second-year outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell recovered the fumble at Seattle’s 6-yard line.
McCarthy called the play a “momentum turning point.”
Suddenly, a struggling offense was in business. A play after the turnover, Packers running back Ty Montgomery powered into the end zone behind the blocks of center Corey Linsley and tight end Martellus Bennett to give Green Bay a 7-3 lead.
The Packers offense controlled the rest of the contest. The Seahawks failed to score a touchdown, settling for three field goals.
“When the defense plays like that we’re going to be tough to beat,” Rodgers said. “They were fantastic, (got a) big turnover that got us seven points (with) a six-yard field, one-play touchdown drive when our offense was stalling. That kind of got everybody going. They were the stars of the game for sure.”
The defense created no such play in Atlanta. The bail out for a sputtering offense never came, and the Falcons used a 31-0 start as a sail to the wind on their way to the Super Bowl.
The Packers defense appears better prepared to provide a steadying force in 2017. A pass-rush that barely bothered Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in January harassed Wilson from start to finish at Lambeau Field. He took three sacks and avoided a half-dozen others.
“They just did their job. They did what they needed to do,” Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett said. “Their front seven put pressure on us, and when you put pressure on, it makes it tough for Russell to be able to throw the ball. He didn’t have time.”
Wilson called it a “great defensive performance” by the Packers, who held him to just 158 yards passing. The Seahawks finished with 225 total yards and only 12 first downs.
Daniels and Perry were dominant forces in the front seven, Morgan Burnett played almost exclusively at linebacker in the “Nitro” package and the cornerback group allowed only two passing plays over 20 yards, one of which arrived after Wilson scrambled away from pressure. The Packers held the Seahawks to just 90 yards rushing despite rarely lining up in the base defense.
It was the kind of win a beleaguered defense needed to start the season.
“We’ve been working together so long, so hard, for this moment, for this season, dating all the way back to the spring,” Burnett said. “So guys, we’re prepared. Only thing we have to do is just trust the process, stay together, don’t get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.”
How rare was Sunday’s win? The victory marked only the third time since Rodgers took over as the starting quarterback that Green Bay has won at home by scoring 17 points or fewer. Defensive battles aren’t common at Lambeau Field.
The Packers probably won’t go into Atlanta’s new stadium this weekend and beat the Falcons by scoring 17 points. With Rodgers at quarterback and a bevy of offensive weapons, the offense can be confident about eventually getting on track. The group won’t be facing the talent Seattle possesses on defense each and every week, and Rodgers admitted the Packers were better on offense – holding the ball for over 40 minutes – than the final score indicated.
Yet, if Week 1 revealed anything, it’s that the Packers appear to have a defense with the capability of stabilizing the team when the offense sputters. The Seahawks had numerous opportunities to take control of Sunday’s game with Rodgers stumbling, but Green Bay’s defense rose to the occasion. More than likely, the road to the Super Bowl will require more steadying moments from a defense that passed its first test of 2017 with flying colors.
Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry celebrates a sack of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during the third quarter. Perry and defensive tackle Mike Daniels (right) were dominant in Green Bay’s front seven on Sunday.