GREEN BAY, Wis. – Who would win the big battle between the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 scoring defense?
That’s easy. The team with the most healthy Aarons.
Led by Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones, the Green Bay Packers were practically unstoppable in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams. With Rams star Aaron Donald rendered practically invisible because of a rib injury, the Packers advanced to next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game with a 32-18 victory.
If the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL can’t stop the Packers, who can? New Orleans, which finished sixth in points allowed but couldn’t stop the Packers in Week 3? Tampa Bay, which finished eighth and manhandled the Packers in Week 6?
“Nobody,” receiver Davante Adams said. “We stop ourselves. I think that’s been proven at this point. They’ve got a lot of guys who do things at a high level and some of the best at their position, but the way we come together is just different than anybody else.”
The big showdown was a massacre. The Packers scored on their first five possessions against a Rams defense that led the NFL with averages of 18.5 points allowed, 281.9 total yards allowed and 190.7 passing yards allowed. The Packers riddled that unit for 32 points and took a knee on first-and-goal at the 9. Green Bay piled up 484 yards of offense against a unit that hadn’t allowed more than 390 yards all season. Rodgers threw for 296 yards, Jones rushed for 99 yards and Allen Lazard had 96 receiving yards, including the clinching touchdown.
“That guy [Rodgers] has such great command,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “If you said you knew nothing about football, and you said, ‘What does it look like to feel like the game is in slow motion and you’re just so in command and under control?’ That’s what it looks like when you watch this guy play. And you don’t have to be anybody who really knows what’s going on. He’s in total command right now. He’s playing at an unbelievably high level.”
Rodgers was fantastic, as has been the case throughout a season that is likely to end with his third MVP award. He completed 23-of-36 passes with two touchdowns (plus another rushing) and a 108.1 passer rating. Against Seattle’s Russell Wilson last week, the Rams gave up just 11-of-27 passing with a 72.1 rating.
The offensive line was fantastic – or “stellar,” as Rodgers put it. Not only did that group lead the charge as the Packers rushed for 188 yards, but the Rams had zero sacks and one quarterback hit after finishing second in the NFL in sack percentage.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Linsley said. “Those guys – Aaron Donald, obviously playing through an injury – but their whole defense, they’ve got a lot of good guys, a lot of great players up front, especially. For us to be able to do that against … again, they’re the No. 1 scoring defense for a reason. It’s not just one part of their defense. As a whole, they play very well, they’re coached very well. That gives us a tremendous amount of confidence moving forward.”
Linsley delivered the key block on Jones’ 60-yard run to start the second half. Jones punctuated that drive with a 1-yard touchdown to make it 25-10.
With the revamped line taking care of business, Green Bay went 8-of-11 on third down until taking a knee to end the game. The Rams entered the game with the second-best third-down defense in the NFL.
As for Donald, he provided just one assisted tackle. Actually, his biggest contribution was a 15-yard penalty after losing his cool and being flagged for unnecessary roughness against Packers guard Elgton Jenkins following the second play of the second quarter. That set up Green Bay for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead it would not relinquish. The other big-time playmaker up front, linebacker Leonard Floyd, had one unassisted tackle.
“Our O-line really answered the bell, man,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “That’s a really good front, and a really good scheme and our guys did it both in the run game and the pass game. There’s been so many games, I was looking at the entirety of their season over the course of the year there’s been multiple games where they’ve had four-plus sacks. I want to say it was in half of the games. For us to keep our quarterback clean, that was huge. And then to compound that and do it in the run game is unbelievable.”
As has been the case throughout the year, Rodgers was complimentary toward LaFleur’s game plan. The Packers came out running to land some body blows. When Lazard dropped what might have been a long touchdown catch in the third quarter, LaFleur came back to that play in the fourth quarter.
“When the play was called, I was thinking touchdown for sure,” Rodgers said.
Sure enough, the result was a 55-yard touchdown that clinched the victory.
By the end of the night, the Packers had become the first team in NFL playoff history to record 475-plus yards and 175-plus rushing yards with zero sacks allowed and zero turnovers. The Packers had never accomplished that feat in any game in franchise history.
“There are times in every season, whether it’s some weeks where you’re going through the process Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and you’re (like) ‘Man, I don’t know about this plan,’ and then you go out and you just dominate. And there’s sometimes you come in and you feel amazing about the plan and you get in the game and it doesn’t maybe work out as well as you think. This was one of those weeks where we were working through it Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and I feel like it just got fine-tuned and fine-tuned even more each day.
“And Matt’s just a grinder. He was telling me before the 2-minute drive, ‘Hey I was watching 2-minute before the game,’ and I was like, ‘What? That’s what you’re doing before the game?’ But that’s the beauty in him and his style and the staff that we have, there’s no stone left unturned.”