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Packers defense more lucky than good against Eagles

03 January 2016: Green Bay Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews (52) [11261] in action during a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, in Green Bay, WI. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

The Green Bay Packers secured a much-needed victory on Monday Night Football, vanquishing the visiting Philadelphia Eagles 27-13. The win snapped the Packers four-game losing streak and breathed life back into Green Bay’s fledgling playoff hopes.

The 13 points allowed is a major improvement for a defense that has struggled over the last month. In each of those four losses, Green Bay’s defense was butter for the opposing offensive hot knives.

  • 33 points and 367 yards allowed to Atlanta
  • 31 points, 355 yards to Indianapolis
  • 47 points, 446 yards to Tennessee
  • 42 points, 515 yards to Washington

Monday night, the Packers defense shaved a lot of the excess baggage off those fat numbers. Philadelphia managed just 292 total yards and one touchdown. That score came on the Eagles’ opening drive, a finely choreographed 11-play, 81-yard drive which accounted for over a quarter of Philadelphia’s offensive output and almost a third (7 of 20) of their first downs.

The improvement is welcome, but must also be taken with a grain of salt.

While Green Bay’s injury-riddled defense did perform better than it has lately, some of the credit (or blame) goes to the Eagles bad offense. That’s good fortune for a Packers defense which sorely needed some luck.

Eagles Woes

Carson Wentz demonstrated once again he’s a rookie quarterback without a lot of experience. More critically, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson demonstrated he’s a rookie head coach who needs precious game management experience of his own before the Eagles are ready to knock off a desperate, hungry opponent.

The prickly Philly fans certainly saw it that way. Pederson’s tone deaf playcalling hindered Wentz and the Eagles offense all night.

On the first drive, big wideout Dorial Green-Beckham was unstoppable. Green Bay’s smaller, slower corners had no answer, and he racked up four catches for 53 yards. He caught two more passes the rest of the night and had more penalties than catches after halftime despite Green Bay’s defense not really tweaking anything to stop him.

The same thing happened with running back Wendell Smallwood, who was fairly effective on Philly’s opening third-quarter drive. Smallwood found holes and ran with vision and purpose for 23 yards on four carries before Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picked off this Wentz abomination:

Smallwood didn’t get another carry, even with the margin being within striking distance until late in the fourth.

Yes, there were some real positives for the Packers defense. Cornerbacks Quentin Rollins and especially rookie Ladarius Gunter had their best extended action of the season. Gunter showed more awareness and confidence in coverage, a welcome development.

Julius Peppers highlighted an invigorated pass rush, which found a lot of success attacking the interior gaps. Clay Matthews looked healthier and recorded a sack, his first in six weeks. The communication and coverage transitions between the linebackers and the secondary hadn’t looked this smooth since the last victory over Chicago.

Those are real, and they are something defensive coordinator Dom Capers can build upon. They should look solid against a Houston Texans team with major quarterback issues this coming week, though the Texans have at least shown some gumption to stick with what’s working.

Fool’s Gold

Yet some of the improvement is fool’s gold. Wentz missed some reads and showed little interest in standing up to the rush and challenging down the field. Green Bay crowded the safeties closer to the line to snuff out the underneath game knowing the Eagles were gun shy on offense. You bring a knife to a gunfight, you lose. Future opponents in Seattle, Detroit and even Chicago won’t hesitate to attack the deeper realms with their higher-caliber offensive weapons.

Now Matthews is dealing with yet another injury, a shoulder issue which could sideline him for more time.

For one night, the Green Bay defense rose up and took care of business. It gets lost in the great night from Aaron Rodgers and the unexpected brilliance of Davante Adams, and perhaps rightly so; their solid showing had a lot more to do with Philadelphia’s bad offense than anything the Packers defense did great. They got lucky. In the NFL, it’s nice to be lucky but better to be good.

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