Gary, Sullivan Lead Defensive Revival
GREEN BAY, Wis. – During the middle of training camp, Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach Mike Smith went on an epic 5-minute rant about how pressure, not sacks, should be the ultimate measuring stick among pass rushers.
“A long time ago, it’s probably when they started recording sacks, or some fans, coaches or whoever it may be defined a great pass rusher off of sacks. That’s one of the, I hate using the word stupid, stupidest things I’ve ever seen,” Smith said.
By that measuring stick, Rashan Gary has been a giant.
Last week at Minnesota, Gary’s late pressure in the face of quarterback Kirk Cousins led to a game-changing interception by Jaire Alexander. On Sunday against Detroit, Gary’s quick pressure on Matthew Stafford turned into an interception and touchdown by Chandon Sullivan. The pick-six, coming midway through the third quarter, bumped Green Bay’s advantage to 31-14 and mostly salted away a 42-21 romp.
On the play, Gary lined up at right outside linebacker. Running back Adrian Peterson went low to chop down Gary. Instead, Gary sidestepped Peterson and quickly was in Stafford’s face. Stafford drifted to his left to avoid getting hit but threw it right to Sullivan.
“That’s ‘Mr. Put Cheese on Everything,’ as he would say,” Sullivan said of Gary’s Twitter hashtag. “But he’s just been working extremely hard all offseason. He promised our defense he’s going to be a difference-maker on defense and he was able to get pressure last week and pressure this week.”
For Sullivan, it was his second career interception. His solid play last season made the Packers confident he could replace Tramon Williams as the team’s slot defender. Sullivan’s main matchup against the Lions was veteran slot receiver Danny Amendola, who caught 2-of-7 targets for 21 yards.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Sullivan said. “The first pick-six. It’s just showing my hard work is paying off. I believe the quarterback thought we were in man, but we were in a zone call. Coach Pet (Mike Pettine) dialed it up and I was able to make a play, so shout out to the D-line with getting pressure and I just took care of the rest.”
Gary, the 12th pick of last year’s draft, had such a ho-hum rookie season that he barely played in last year’s playoff games. He had a strong training camp, though, to put himself front and center in Pettine’s plans.
“I think it’s a byproduct of his effort, his attitude, his approach on a daily basis,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “Rashan, we know we’re going to get his best, day in and day out, and it’s so awesome to see. By no means do I think he’s arrived. I think there’s a lot that he can still improve in his game, but I think he’s made a lot of progress and it’s really fun to see a guy put as much into it as he does and then reap the benefits of that.”
In the fourth quarter, Gary collected 1.5 sacks to help put the finishing touches on a second consecutive convincing win.
“To be honest, I really haven’t been focused on it,” he said of his stats. “I’ve just been focused on the ultimate goal and of course that’s going to the Super Bowl and winning. We’re just taking it game by game and making sure I’m progressing game by game and fixing things I need to fix. I’m just keeping my head down and going.”
The Gary-Sullivan interception highlighted Green Bay’s defensive turnaround. The Lions started the day with back-to-back 75-yard touchdown drives. Dating to last week at Minnesota, that meant Green Bay had allowed five consecutive touchdown drives. However, the Lions’ next six possessions resulted in four punts, a missed field goal and the interception. The Lions gained just two first downs on those possessions. The second of those punts set up the Packers for the go-ahead touchdown just before halftime.
“I’ve talked about over the years how momentum-changing and monumental those opportunities to double up can be,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “To go from a down four (points) to up 10 in not much time, we scored in 45 seconds, 50 seconds and then scored in one play. Next thing you know, we’re up by 10 points. Then ‘Sully’ picks it off and we’re up three scores and you’re really going to be playing downhill.”
Detroit finished the game with 307 yards – 150 on the first two possessions and 157 on the final nine.