Defense keeps Rams out of the end zone, preserves comfortable win
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – He hates to break the news. In a dream world, 40-point outbursts never cease. Aaron Rodgers cannot be stopped. And the Green Bay Packers never lose.
But leaning against his locker, Tramon Williams provides a sobering dose of reality. Sooner or later, the Green Bay Packers’ defense would need to bail out its offense. Sooner or later, the invincibility would end.
“There was going to come a point in time,” the cornerback said, “where we’d have to cover for those guys.”
That day finally came Sunday in the Packers’ 24-3 win over the St. Louis Rams. After three first-half touchdowns, the offense sputtered. Punter Tim Masthay was summoned four times in a row as Green Bay was shut out in a half for the first time in nine games. The defense needed to deliver more timely, back-against-the-wall plays that have defined Dom Capers’ defense this season – and they did.
Toward the end, Williams glanced up at the scoreboard with teammate Charles Woodson. The Rams had eclipsed 400 yards. It “didn’t feel that way,” Williams said. The Packers (6-0) suffocated the lowly Rams at opportune times.
“We don’t want teams to score a touchdown, obviously,” Williams said. “Teams get downfield and some are good in the red zone, some are not. We want it to be on us if they score or not. That’s the way it’s been all year.”
That’s been the blueprint. Throughout Green Bay’s undefeated start, players have traded the role of protagonist. In Carolina, Charles Woodson picked off Cam Newton twice. In Chicago, Morgan Burnett had a pair of picks. Against Denver, Desmond Bishop forced a fumble inside the Green Bay 5.
Sunday had the look of a laughable, send-in-the-JVs romp. With 1:56 left in the first half, Rodgers zipped a 7-yard touchdown to Donald Driver and Green Bay went ahead, 24-0. In the first half, Rodgers had 234 yards on 11-of-15 passing with three scores. For old friend Al Harris, no mercy.
Then, the offense went stale.
Five straight second-half drives stalled. Reliable Jordy Nelson dropped a third-down catch. Another deep post ricocheted off Greg Jennings’ hands for an interception.
A Rams team decimated by injury had a chance to put a scare in the NFL’s only undefeated team. But despite sparkling individual performances from quarterback Sam Bradford (321 yards) and running back Steven Jackson (96 yards), the Rams never threatened. Green Bay’s defense has given up just three points the last 18 times they’ve been on the field.
That bulging black club removed from his broken right hand, Burnett says it’s not complicated.
“Just guys finishing and hustling to the ball, guys doing their job and being accountable,” Burnett said. “We just need to keep playing from the start of the first whistle to the last whistle in the fourth quarter because throughout the course of the game, you can’t predict what could happen.”
On one third and 6 in the third quarter, Desmond Bishop made a difficult, open-field tackle on Jackson. The Rams punted. And the next drive – St. Louis’ best chance to make this a game – Bradford hooked up with an array of no-name receivers for completions of 19, 21 and 9.
And on first and goal from the 10, the second-year quarterback underthrew a fade to Danario Alexander. Cornerback Sam Shields snatched the ball away, refused to take a knee and was promptly tattooed in the end zone.
Williams saw the knockout coming – it was his wide receiver that smacked Shields. Joked the veteran, “You have to learn the hard way sometimes.” Still, this turnover proved to be a dagger. Shields didn’t return because of a head injury but supplied the defense’s biggest play.
“That’s typical Sam,” Williams said. “That’s what he does. I don’t know if teams really know it yet, but you can’t really throw deep on that guy. It was textbook by Sam. The defense, period, has been doing a great job in the red zone.”
The Rams failed to score a touchdown on three trips to the red zone. For the season, opponents are only 8 of 21 inside the 20. The pass defense has toiled, statistically, in the basement.
Just fine, says Williams.
“The yards get up there, but that’s the type of defense we’ve been playing all the time – bend but don’t break,” he said. “We’re going to continue that.”
Convenient because this type of game was inevitable. To date, nothing had stopped the offense. Man coverage, zone coverage, blitzing, doubling a receiver, it didn’t matter. Rodgers and the Packers were on pace for team and league records across the board.
But it’s a long season. Such dependency on the offense can be risky and unrealistic.
“This is the NFL,” defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “You’re not going to score every time you have the ball.”
So Raji can see the beauty in a beast of a game. Finally, he believes, the defense is getting its swagger back.
“We’re kind of getting back to our shape,” he said. “It was funny. People remember us from last year when we had our run, but we’re nowhere near that. I think as we go along, we’ll start clicking and putting it together.”
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