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Center Stage Defense Sets Tone for 2017 Season

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Center Stage Defense Sets Tone for 2017 Season

There were times in Sunday’s season opener where Green Bay seemed like the same old Packers, and not in a good way. Too often Rodgers’ first, second and third reads provided fruitless opportunities and the two-time MVP was forced into the improvisation that, against a less talented squad, would have likely eventuated in more positive plays than incompletions and sacks (of which there were four in the first half alone). 
But there were other ways in which the Packers looked new-school, not the least of which was their defense taking center stage. 
Critically underrated defensive tackle Mike Daniels played the game of his career, making mincemeat of whoever lined up across from him, while Nick Perry proved his offseason payday worth, Clay Matthews pursued and disrupted, and Kenny Clark looked every bit a year older, stronger and wiser. Rookie additions Kevin King and Josh Jones were limited participants on a defense that rested its laurels largely on a dominant performance by the front seven and the added versatility of a three-safety Nitro package that flowed to the ball and largely kept yards after the catch to a minimum. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins were solid contributors rather than serious liabilities, and Davon House’s return to Lambeau Field was definitely welcome. 
The qualifier here is that Seattle’s offensive line appears to be amongst the worst in the league, and that’s saying something after abysmal performances Sunday by the same units in Houston, New York, and Indianapolis. 
Next week presents a much tougher test for Green Bay, as Atlanta features a top 10 offensive line and a top 5 bevy of skill position players. But it’s hard to imagine a result similar to the boat race that ended the Packers’ season last January. This Packer defense is far healthier and more than a few ticks more versatile. (Another narrative worth following all season is to what extent, if at all, do the Falcons regress offensively with the loss of Kyle Shanahan, their exceptional former offensive coordinator/current San Francisco head coach.) 
The Packers likely won’t boast an advantage over opposing offensive lines as they did so lopsidedly against Seattle. That said, they likely won’t need to be as dominant because there are few if any defenses of Seattle’s caliber they’ll face this season. Barring a catastrophe, the Packers should clear at least 20 points of offense the rest of the way. Though the defense more than rose to the occasion Sunday, Green Bay is still led by Rodgers and the offense.  
Next week, the challenge will again be in protecting Rodgers from a dangerous bunch of pass rushers. Atlanta’s young defense is on the rise, even if Mike Glennon and the Bears knocked on the door of victory in Week 1. Against Seattle’s pass rush, Green Bay was often at its best getting rid of the ball quickly. When they opted for long-developing plays with no underneath outlet for Rodgers, they struggled. Establishing a run and spreading the ball around to new weapons—namely those new tight ends, Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks—they stand a better chance to improve as the game goes on like they did against Seattle’s increasingly worn out defense. 
Season openers are fickle. Before Sunday, no team’s engine revved above 50 percent, and it’s common for defenses to have an upper edge over offenses early on. But there are plenty of takeaways from Sunday that signal, should the team stay relatively healthy, that the defense has indeed taken a step forward. That should pay dividends with the Packers’ difficult early-season schedule. 
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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (32) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

4thand1's picture

After AR threw the early pick, he got too careful IMO. He was beside himself on the bench. The D bailed him out though and gave the offense more than enough opportunities. The Atlanta game should be a shoot out and if this D can get a few stops and get off of the field, the Packers win. The arrow is pointing up early this season.

L's picture

The D will set the tone for every game the whole season and lead the way to the Packers' 5th Super Bowl Championship while the offense will provide the entertaining blow-outs!

Handsback's picture

I would think Green Bay and MM would go to a very heavy offense against the Falcons. 2-TEs and, 2-WR and lets see f they can roll accross the lighter Falcon's defense. One down and 18 to go.

Nick Perry's picture

Excellent point Hansback, I think they go to the 2 TE sets more often this week too. Several members of the Falcons are on the "Smallish" side and I think they could be worn down with a balanced running and short passing game. This Sundays game could look a lot like the Seattle game in terms of TOP if the Packers choose to play it like that. They could REALLY wear out the Atlanta defense. Question is does McCarthy see it that way or will he try to score quick and often. I'd prefer often and slowly against the Falcons.

L's picture

I think we attack them the exact same way the Patriots attacked them in the second half of the Super Bowl. Mix and match around an attack that features quick check down passes to the Running Back. Make them adjust to it and stop it consistently before reducing that priority. I say feature Montgomery within three phases, (1) single back running plays that can be checked out of by featuring him as the initial target in the flat (let him make a play in space) or send him up the middle for a quick check-down dump off that nets a few positive yards, (2) prove we can run a good screen play or develop it, and (3) occasionally motion him into the slot and get him matched up onto a Linebacker, Safety, or Slot Corner. If it's a linebacker he should be Rodger's first read with the idea of hitting him on a quick slant, crossing, or out route. If he draws a Safety or Slot Corner then Rodgers should have a good opportunity to either take a deep shot to Adams or Nelson or hit a TE up the seam. Cobb/Nelson, Bennett, and Montgomery should be causing fits for teams in the middle of the field (5-10 yard timed passing plays) and by getting teams to adjust to Montgomery early on (with plays designed for 0-5 yards in mind although w/ potential to gain much more) opportunities should open up for Rodgers in that area as well as down the seams and deep along the boundaries. Rodgers' reads beyond the designed play to feature Montgomery should be to read the defense for the most optimal 5-15 yard pass play or hit the check-down and lastly to use his feet to put extra pressure on the D (Please, for the love of GOD slide feet first!!!). Once you get the defense reacting to you instead of you reacting to them you can take advantage of their more predictable adjustments for downfield shots.

cheesehead1's picture

Nice first game for our D, impressed. On to game two and we need to be consistent. Remember last season our run D was good until we met up with the better teams, Dallas etc. Kudos to Martelus Bennett for looking out for Aaron. Like in hockey you protect your stars.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

That was a ridiculously stupid play by Bennett. He cost us big yardage in crunch time after a perfectly legal hit by Seattle.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

He and Cobb had better learn from their moronic after-the-play theatrics and stay focused.

croatpackfan's picture

There is also some possibilities to be malicious while still legal. And that hit was malicious - look again that m omenmt and you'll see Wagner who hit Aaron in his back by crown of the helmet, while it was sufficient just to touch him with hands. That is why Marty reacted...

Nick Perry's picture

I'm sorry ALP but I LOVED that play. Yes it cost us yardage but I like the message it sent. As far as that Cobb penalty that was a F'ing JOKE! Taunting? Gimme a break!

RCPackerFan's picture

Completely agree!

I think that penalty on Cobb showed that the refs had done their research on these teams and knew they had to call it tight right away. Its also why I think Lane got ejected. Just go back and look at last years game against Seattle. When the Packers were clocking the ball and Lane comes up and just smashes Cobb.

Finwiz's picture

No it wasn't an extremely stupid play when a dirty player like KJ Wright is spearing your QB in the kidneys with his helmet.
I normally hate penalties where players can't control their tempers, but in this case, when another player is protecting your star, I LOVE IT!
I hope he does it again until opposing teams quit cheap "shotting" the 150 million dollar man.
If he gets injured, the seasons over.

dobber's picture

I agree: I didn't have a big problem with Bennett taking that shot at that point (assuming he was aware that the dead ball foul wouldn't nullify the first down). I'm fine with him playing enforcer.

I'll be honest though: if it were Russell Wilson going head-first and not feet first on a play like that, I want one of our guys to plug him hard, too. Wright's hit was excessive, but not illegal...that's where Seattle typically plays, and teams should reciprocate in kind.

Finwiz's picture

Chances are he was just reacting, and didn't actually know it wouldn't reverse the play and the 1st down. I'd like to give him credit for knowing the exact situation, but that probably wouldn't be accurate. I've felt the Packers have been pushed around for years so maybe between guys like Bennett and Daniels we can turn this around a bit.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I agree with ALP. Bennett's action was dumb. AR had just scrambled to the Seattle 39 yard line with 2:59 left. Bennett's penalty isn't going to deter Wright from hitting AR in the future, so it isn't an enforcer issue. The penalty does stop the clock and make it unnecessary for Seattle to use its final timeout. Although we were playing the clock as much as the field position, 7 more yards on the ensuing plays would put trying a 49 yard field goal to go up by 11 in play. Assuming Seattle uses its final TO with 2:59 left, we run first down and use the 40 second play clock. 2nd down gets snapped with 2:19 left, and the 2 minute warning is given. We snap 3rd down with 2 minutes left and use the time necessary for the play plus the 40 second play clock, and there should be less than 1:20 seconds left. We take the delay of game penalty if necessary and punt with less than 40 seconds left, making Seattle drive most of the length of the field with no timeouts needing a TD and 2 pt. conversion.

Dumb is my verdict.

Finwiz's picture

Yeah except you weren't on the field, in the heat of the moment, to have 4 days to decide what to do when your franchise QB is getting speared in the kidneys with a helmet on a dirty player.

My verdict.....NECESSARY.

dobber's picture

I would argue that the message sent wasn't to KJ Wright. It was sent to his Packer teammates.

Yes, the timing was crappy (there's never a good time for a personal foul), but Bennett has established himself as a team leader in a very short period of time. This statement--whether he was thinking this way or not when he did it--will do more to galvanize his teammates than anything else.

GBPDAN1's picture

It was fun watching the D yesterday. I too am curious to see how they look on the road against good O's like Atlanta and Dallas. The potential of this D is promising. The new additions are intriguing. They should be middle of the road at the very least and hopefully top 10. Middle of the road should be good enough when this potent offense finds it's rhythm for 4 qrts.

Hope Bulaga gets back for next week and that Brooks concussion is a minor one. Would also like to see Odom get up to speed with D scheme quickly and get out on the field soon. I think he could be a gamer

Bearmeat's Phantom Downvoter's picture

Great first win. Now, moving on:

The first question is whether or not ATL really is as good as they appeared down the stretch last year. I think the answer to that is "not even close." Ryan had a career year last year. Regression was going to happen, even when you throw out their OC and DC leaving and the super bowl hangover. Throw in that, although the Bears front 7 is stout, their secondary certainly is not, and ATL did not look good yesterday against them. They would have lost to even an average team.

However, at home, to open up their new stadium - that's a different story altogether. GB is walking into a hotbox.

The matchups that will determine this game are going to be how much we can jam it down their throats with the OL/TE and Ty. Their D is lightning fast - but not big. They have more team speed than we do - so the answer is to beat them up.

On the other side of the ball - what do you do with Julio? And how effective will Nitro be in stopping their running attack. They are deadly on play action.

The TKstinator's picture

David, you had me at "eventuated".

Mojo's picture

Wow, look at the guns on 76 and 53 in the above picture.

If I ever needed back-up in a bar fight you could do worse.

Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

I watched a lot of Clay Matthews when reviewing the tape of yesterday's game, and something has greatly changed between him now and when he was younger.

Decreased athleticism? Sure, but there's something more pronounced: His hands.

Clay used to have violent hands. He would hammer at tackles hands and arms, setting himself up for a variety of moves. Now his hands seem far less violent--very noticeable. As a result, he's dancing out there.

Can he get this back?

The TKstinator's picture

Yes he can, along with his groove.

flackcatcher's picture

Packers run those 'shot' plays early to see the defensive formation of the other team. MM always adjusts in the second quarter, then sets up a play, or series of plays to get the defense in that formation. It's not an accident that Rodgers catches an defense moving personal, and takes a 'shot'. Packers set it up, then look for it. Every team in the league knows it, but they get caught. This time it cost Seattle the game. That kind of attention to detail is why MM is among the best head coaches in the NFL. Nice article David.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Josh Jones did not play on defense. Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas each played just 5 snaps. Almost no 2 TE sets. All these things surprised me.

I suspect that all of the above except Josh Jones might change against Atlanta.

croatpackfan's picture

Reports how Josh played on ST are not favourable. He has speed, but mostly overrun his tackle or hit, or was quite easily blocked and made one foul - illegal block in the back...

So, he is still learning!

nostradanus's picture

Defense is improved for sure, they have a lot of nice pieces and should only get better.

Offense always seems to start the season slowly and with the addition of Bennett-Kendricks should be more balanced as the season progresses.

Special teams coverage has always been an issue in the McCarthy era, close but no cigar for Seattle on the kick return.

Very solid win against a tough and motivated opponent!

Should be another shoot-out in Atlanta in the Birds new birdhouse. Bring it on and let's go ruffle some feathers boys!

Go Pack!!

HankScorpio's picture

The really exciting part of the defensive performance on Sunday was that it was accomplished with little help from all the new acquisitions on defense. Brooks got a concussion early. Adams, Biegel and Dial did not suit up. Odom, Jones and King got some snaps but nothing all that significant. The only new face that contributed heavily was Davon House.

Instead guys like Clark, Randall and Rollins played much better than they did in 2016. Nick Perry had a heck of a game. The Safety group, once an Achilles heel, was all over the place.

So they have another level easily attainable once they start working the newcomers into the mix more heavily.

dobber's picture

When you're healthy, it can look like a lot of new additions.

Packer Fan's picture

I like the when Packers offense plays when they play the short passing game. The last four drives of the Seattle game showed what it can do. Control the flow and time of the game. Giving the defense a rest. The last 6 minutes were chewed up by the offense through a series of runs and passes that just kept the chains moving. And the dagger was the pass to Bennett on a bootleg when Seattle was focusing on stopping the run too much. I hope McCarthy frequently uses this method to control games.

Since '61's picture

After one game it may be premature to state that the defense set the tone for the season. They played very well against Seattle and not to diminish their efforts but Seattle's OL is not very solid.
I'm also not over reacting to the Falcons effort against the Bears. It was the Bears home opener, first game of the season for both teams and Atlanta's players may have been thinking about their homes and families in the path of a very powerful and dangerous hurricane.
Remember the Falcons will be back on turf this Sunday in the opener for their new stadium.
This will be a huge test for our defense and a good measuring stick for where they are really at. If they come up big against Atlanta then we have a stronger case for the defense setting the tone. One play, one series, one game at a time. Thanks, Since '61

dobber's picture

Maybe not the defense setting the tone, but the win in general setting the tone. The Packers have, the last few years, been knocked for a lack of toughness. This was a grind-it-out kind of win that can get you believing in yourselves and your physicality. This is a 'swagger-building' win, even though Seattle might be a little overrated (see: Minnesota). Hopefully it carries over to Sunday.

Since '61's picture

Dobber - agree completely, good and accurate comment. Thanks, Since '61

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