The Green Bay Packers clinched their sixth straight playoff berth by cruising to 20-3 victory over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Despite a lot of the negativity that they did not blow Tampa Bay out of the water, this should be a day to celebrate.
Even though the only were able to score 20 points due to drops and missed opportunities the Green Bay offense still averaged a solid six yards per play. Since when did we get so spoiled that we can’t enjoy a 17-point road victory? The biggest concern to come out of that game is clearly Aaron Rodgers’ calf. You need him as mobile as possible for next week and the playoffs, and you know the dirty Lions will try to target it. The Packers clearly went to a more quick and short passing game to help Rodgers not take hits, and that might have been a blessing in disguise against Lovie Smith’s Cover-2 defense.
The interesting thing about yesterday is that the Packers’ defense was flat out dominant for a second consecutive week. The Bucs only averaged 2.3 yards per play and only six first downs. Green Bay sacked Josh McCown seven times with Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews both with multiple sacks. The Packers forced three-and-outs on Tampa Bay’s first five possessions and the Bucs did not even gain positive yardage until a drive right before the half netted them a field goal. That’s impressive against any NFL team.
Of course the obvious retort to this will be that they played Kyle Orton last week and McCown and a dreadful offensive line this week. That is certainly a valid critique. However, it brings up a funny point about media narratives.
Whenever the Packers play well on defense the first thing everybody does is look at who the opposition was. Meanwhile, everybody in the media will tell you that the Seattle Seahawks are a Super Bowl lock after their five game win streak since they have returned to playing the kind of defense that they played last season. However, will anybody in the media point out this week that the quarterbacks in this win streak have been Drew Stanton, Colin Kaepernick twice, Mark Sanchez and the immortal Ryan Lindley? Not a chance in hell. For what it’s worth, Lindley has a good chance of being the worst NFL quarterback of all-time — no hyperbole.
If the Packers did it against those quarterbacks that’s all anybody would point out because of their reputation. There’s a chance everybody is right, and Seattle will return to the Super Bowl with ease. It certainly is possible and perhaps likely. This double standard should be pointed out though, just because it’s funny.
Other than one bad half against the Atlanta Falcons the Packers have not played a bad defensive football game since a Week 8 loss in New Orleans without Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett. Burnett was a stud yesterday with 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. He was a menace around the line of scrimmage throwing his body around and making a lot of tackles in the run game. These tackles were not ones far down the field.
With Burnett playing the line like this — and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix playing center field — the Packers are so much improved at safety. Clinton-Dix had a big play in the first half coming over and knocking a deep pass away from Mike Evans after he got by Shields. Clinton-Dix also finished a play in the backfield, which has been his Achilles heel in his rookie season.
Nick Perry and Datone Jones looked healthier yesterday, which is huge. Matthews and Peppers looked like just what everybody dreamed of when Peppers was brought in. Even guys like Josh Boyd, Letroy Guion and Jayrone Elliot have done good things. Sam Barrington’s promotion to starting linebacker and Matthews’ move to the position have clearly improved the middle of the defense. No A.J. Hawk on the field certainly helps.
The Packers still can’t stop the run though right? Well, over their last seven games they have allowed 3.4 yards per carry. The Packers can’t stop big time receivers since Julio Jones killed them right? They’ve only allowed two 100-yard receiving games all year to Jones and Brandon Marshall.
There’s no denying the fact that the Packers have played solid defense this year. They have defeated media narratives like they can’t beat a good team (Philadelphia) and can’t beat an elite quarterback (Tom Brady). They must first take care of business against Detroit, but there is no narrative working against them in that game. The next narrative to defeat is that they can’t win on the road (except if the little chance they have of getting the No. 1 seed happens) and that Seattle is virtually unbeatable. It’s time to keep proving the doubters wrong.