Aaron Rodgers outplayed Tom Brady and made himself the front runner for the NFL MVP award, but it was the Green Bay Packers defense that made the biggest stand yesterday evening at Lambeau Field.
The narrative before the Eagles victory was that the Packers could not defeat an elite team. After they did that it was that they could not beat an elite quarterback. Nobody can say any of that anymore.
The Packers defense stopped a quarterback who has the most game winning drives in NFL history in his attempt to deliver would would have been a soul crushing defeat. It was the same drive the Packers could not stop in the playoffs against Colin Kaepernick at Lambeau last January.
Mike Neal has been one of the more criticized players on the Packers over the years, but he made the play of his career on a third-and-9 sack of Brady that won the game for the Green Bay. They had gotten some good pressure on Brady throughout the game, but just could not get for a sack. Neal made the play that the Packers’ defense of the last three seasons never would have made.
It’s pretty clear why the Packers’ defense has been so much improved this year. One has been the addition of Julius Peppers. Peppers didn’t make a ton of big plays this game other than two pass knockdowns, but obviously he has made a ton of them this year leading the team with six sacks and two defensive touchdowns. His presence helps guys like Neal get the one-on-one opportunity he got to make that sack.
However, most importantly Peppers’ presence has allowed Clay Matthews be moved to inside linebacker. For a coach who has often been accused of never making adjustments or making big changes Mike McCarthy deserves a ton of credit for this working. The Packers do not win this game if that move is not made. The middle of the field has not been as wide open for opponents anymore.
Another move that McCarthy deserves credit for is benching A.J. Hawk in nickel and dime. It may have come eight years too late, but better late than never. Sam Barrington played a very active and aggressive game. He was all over the field. Less Hawk can only be a good thing for the Packers.
With Barrington and Matthews patrolling the middle the Packers have much better athletes there than ever before. With the talent they have at corner and rushing the passer it makes all the difference in the world.
Along the line of improving up the middle Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has also made a huge difference. He made two plays on Gronk in one-on-one coverage during that final New England drive. He certainly is not a rookie anymore. Can you imagine M.D. Jennings attempting that? Sure, Clinton-Dix makes his fair share of rookie mistakes a game, like his failed shoulder tackle of Gronkowski. Most of his mistakes are like that when he is not seeing what he is hitting. However, you see the flashes each and every week.
Even though the Packers didn’t sack Brady until that final play they rattled him in the third quarter. Datone Jones and Mike Daniels got great pressure up the gut and Matthews was very close a few times. Once Brady gets rushed he has a tendency to rush his mechanics and that results in the inaccurate passes you saw in the third quarter. That’s the main difference between Brady and Rodgers. Rodgers is much better facing pressure.
Something feels special about this Green Bay Packers football team. It’s because the defense is finally pulling their own weight.