GREEN BAY, Wis. – How would the Green Bay Packers’ block the Los Angeles Rams’ ferocious front with their injury-riddled offensive line? How would the defense bounce back from a putrid performance at Minnesota?
The answers to those questions fueled Green Bay’s 36-28 victory on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers was sacked only once – a 0-yard scramble – and the defense gave up two long touchdowns but scored one touchdown and set up another.
Here’s this week’s report card.
Rodgers was 28-of-45 passing for 307 yards and two touchdowns. He was in complete control. In a performance reminiscent of last year’s MVP season, he mostly took what the Rams gave him. On passes less than 10 yards downfield, Rodgers was 24-of-26 for 172 yards and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. There have been times when he’s been a bit skittish when pressured but he was rarely, if ever, flustered on Sunday.
Davante Adams was sensational, catching 8-of-9 targets for 104 yards. Randall Cobb caught four passes for 95 yards in the first half before sitting out the second half with a groin injury. Maybe Amari Rodgers would have been more advanced if force-fed snaps, but Aaron Rodgers was right in pressing general manager Brian Gutekunst to acquire Cobb at the start of training camp. Cobb is like a fire extinguisher. When Rodgers needs him, he can smash the glass and hit Cobb on a key play.
Rodgers threw 45 passes and was sacked once for a total of 46 dropbacks. PFF charged the offensive line for three quarterback hits – two against left tackle Yosh Nijman and one against left guard Jon Runyan. In the fourth quarter, Von Miller shot past Nijman with an inside move and clobbered Rodgers. That’s the one negative play that really stood out. To give up one hit apiece to the all-decade Miller, the all-decade Aaron Donald and sacks leader Leonard Floyd couldn’t be classified as anything other than an overwhelming win for Adam Stenavich’s unit.
Running backs AJ Dillon (20 carries, 69 yards) and Aaron Jones (10 carries, 23 yards) combined for just 92 yards on 30 tries. Their longest carries of the day went for a meager 8 yards. Still, credit to coach Matt LaFleur for sticking with it and to Dillon for plowing forward for every possible inch – and then some.
By our count, Dillon had 51 yards after contact and broke five tackles and Jones had 19 yards after contact and broke three tackles. The Packers drafted Dillon for games like this one. Jones is a superb talent but, in the fourth quarter of a cold-weather game, who wants to tackle 247 pounds of Dillon? Safety Taylor Rapp will have nightmares after getting plowed over in the fourth quarter.
The blocking wasn’t great but the Rams have been stout vs. the run for most of the season. Nijman might not be as good as Jenkins in the run game but he’s an asset, nonetheless.
Matthew Stafford hit Van Jefferson (against Chandon Sullivan, who stumbled as Jefferson made the catch) and Odell Beckham (against Rasul Douglas, with safety Adrian Amos biting on Stafford’s shoulder fake) for deep touchdowns. On the other hand, Rashan Gary’s sack-strip set up a 6-yard touchdown drive and Douglas had a pick-six. So, that’s two touchdowns apiece.
Otherwise, give Green Bay the victory in this phase. Yes, Stafford threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns but averaged just 4.0 yards on his other 38 dropbacks. Star receiver Cooper Kupp, who entered the game leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, caught 7-of-10 passes for 96 yards. However, the pick-six was on a ball to Kupp, and three catches for 32 yards came in the trivial final drive. Stafford’s nine other passes to Beckham gained 27 yards. The running backs and tight ends were nonfactors, with those 10 targets gaining 34 yards.
According to PFF and its best guess at coverage responsibilities, Stafford was 6-of-19 on passes against Douglas and Eric Stokes. Douglas had more breakups (four) than catches allowed (three on 10 targets).
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Without prodigious sack numbers, Gary has no chance of making it to the Pro Bowl but he’s a superb, ascending player. He drew two holding penalties after crafty veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Back from a concussion, defensive tackle Kingsley Keke has found his pass-rushing groove. PFF credited Preston Smith with five pressures and Gary and Keke with four apiece.
Darrell Henderson carried 16 times for 55 yards. Really, the only play that mattered was on the Rams’ second possession. Sean McVay gambled on a fourth-and-inches from his own 29. On a handoff to Henderson, Amos shot inside guard Austin Corbett and met Henderson in the hole. Had Henderson fallen forward, he would have gained the first down. But Amos went low, and Henderson twirled in the air and landed short of the first down.
On 19 carries by running backs, Green Bay missed only one tackle (De’Vondre Campbell).
The Packers missed another field goal, with Mason Crosby taking target practice on the left upright from 42 yards to the south end zone. Crosby’s pregame series of kicks to that end was a picture of futility. It appeared he missed three in a row from 49 yards before moving up and missing from 41. All four were wide right. After all four, Crosby looked exasperated while talking through things with snapper Steven Wirtel and holder Corey Bojorquez. Crosby has missed at least one field goal in four consecutive games, his worst stretch since missing at least one in six straight in 2012.
On the Rams’ first punt, rookie Amari Rodgers stumbled and failed to field the ball. On the second, the Packers made a switch with old reliable Cobb back deep. Naturally, he dropped the ball to hand the Rams a field goal.
Why any team kicks the ball into the end zone against Green Bay’s kickoff return is a mystery. On three returns, Rodgers was tackled at the 11, 21 and 19.
On the bright side, Crosby made his first three field goals and three extra points. And the punt coverage unit secured a turnover on Dominique Dafney’s strip and Krys Barnes’ recovery. Three of Bojorquez’s five punts pinned the Rams inside the 15, including one downed by Equanimeous St. Brown at the 1. The kickoff coverage held the Rams to the 20 or worse three times. Dafney had one of those stops, too. So, there are building blocks.
The Packers were playing for the 12th consecutive week; the Rams were coming off their bye. The Packers have an enormous injury list; the Rams were mostly healthy.
In any list of the most important positions in football, quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher and cornerback would be right at the top. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a broken pinky toe. Yosh Nijman is Green Bay’s No. 3 left tackle. At outside linebacker, the Rams recently added Miller while Green Bay had a wounded Gary and two practice-squad guys as backups. Of the All-Pro cornerbacks, the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey started and the Packers’ Jaire Alexander missed an eighth consecutive game with a shoulder injury.
There’s no overstating the job Stenavich, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray and outside linebackers coach Mike Smith have done under trying circumstances. LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and defensive coordinator Joe Barry keep finding winning ways to work around all the injuries. It’s hard to imagine a coach with an MVP quarterback will ever win Coach of the Year but LaFleur has been a magician.