On a day where the offense was ‘terrible,’ Packers’ ‘tremendous’ defense leads way to 22-0 win

October 1, 2018

Packers tight end Jimmy Graham celebrates his first-quarter touchdown catch against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

GREEN BAY — While Aaron Rodgers may have been irritated – to put it lightly – by the Green Bay Packers’ poor offensive showing during Sunday’s 22-0 shutout victory over the Buffalo Bills at Lambeau Field, don’t let the two-time NFL MVP quarterback’s frustrations with what happened on his side of the ball obscure what happened on the other side of it.

The Packers defense – even against an inconsistent Bills outfit commanded by a very green rookie quarterback – was absolutely dominating.

“I mean, seven sacks, the continuous pressure, and really the ability to lock them down too on the back end, that was so important,” coach Mike McCarthy gushed after his team improved to 2-1-1 at the season’s quarter-pole. “Our defense really was tremendous.”

Allowing zero points and just 145 net yards, first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s crew registered the Packers’ first shutout since a 9-0 blanking of the New York Jets on Oct. 31, 2010. (Pettine, coincidentally, was on the Jets staff at the time.) It was the team’s first shutout at Lambeau Field since a 26-0 victory over the Detroit Lions on Oct. 18, 2009.

“Hopefully,” defensive end Mike Daniels said, “it’s the first of many in this new scheme.”

Nevertheless, Rodgers made it abundantly clear that the offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Saying the unit was “terrible” and should have amassed “about 45 points and 600 yards,” a visibly annoyed Rodgers said after the game that as thrilled as he was with the way the defense played, the juxtaposition of the defense’s dominance with the offense’s limited production bothered him to no end.

“We were championship defensive level and non-playoff team offensive level today,” Rodgers said after completing 22 of 40 passes for 298 yards with one touchdown, one interception, two sacks and a lost fumble (76.9 passer rating). “That was not great by any stretch of the imagination.”

But the defense was indeed great, even if you grade on a curve and acknowledge that Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in this year’s draft, helped the unit’s cause. The 145 yards were the fewest allowed by a Packers defense since Dec. 21, 2014 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (109), and Allen’s ineptitude – he was erratic with his accuracy and showed little awareness against a pass rush that had more sacks Sunday (seven) than in the first three games combined (six) – surely helped that.

On the other hand, these were the same Bills (1-3) who went into U.S. Bank Stadium last week and whipped the Minnesota Vikings, 27-6.

“I mean, it’s all part of it,” McCarthy acknowledged when asked about Allen, who finished the game having completed just 16 of 33 passes for 151 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and seven sacks for a passer rating of 36.3. “But it’s the same young quarterback and football team that seven days ago won in a very tough place against an excellent football team.

“We improved today as a team. Frankly, that’s all we’re focused on and that’s all we feel that matters. We improved and our defense was definitely the bell cow today.”

Rodgers’ annoyance with the offense’s performance was predicated in part on its inability to get No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams (eight receptions, 81 yards on 14 targets) and tight end Jimmy Graham (three receptions, 21 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown on six targets) more involved. While Rodgers didn’t explicitly say that the issue was the offensive game plan, some of his remarks certainly could be construed as that being the primary problem.

“We need to find ways to get our playmakers in position to get some more opportunities,” Rodgers said. “A game like today, Davante’s a tough cover for anybody, but he should have had 20 targets today. They couldn’t stop him. They dared to play one-high (safety) a few times. So, we have to find ways to get him the ball. And Jimmy as well.”

Asked how to get Adams more involved, Rodgers replied, “It’s by the plan. Find ways to get him in No. 1 spots.”

But even with Rodgers throwing an interception (which was tipped twice, first by Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, then Graham) and coughing up a fumble when he was blindsided on a sack by blitzing cornerback Taron Johnson (which Rodgers took the blame for, saying he needed to “get the ball out earlier”), the defense carried the day.

Backup outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell finished with three sacks, and a defense that came in having forced just three turnovers had three takeaways in the game (a fumble forced and recovered by defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and interceptions by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Jaire Alexander). Buffalo’s 12 possessions ended in eight punts, two interceptions, a fumble and the final gun.

“It’s an awesome accomplishment. It doesn’t happen in the NFL that often,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who registered his first official half-sack of the season – and wasn’t penalized for roughing-the-passer for the first time all year. “It just shows that we’re capable of it.”

Added Daniels: “It means everything, and I feel like everything is starting to come together. Obviously when you get a new scheme, you’re going to go through your growing pains of figuring things out. We have a lot of new guys figuring out how to play with one another. I think it really started to come together today.”

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