Early sacks rattle Sanchez, ground Eagles' offense
They talked about it all week. First series against a quarterback with renewed confidence, the Green Bay Packers defense wanted to send a message.
Here was Letroy Guion's chance. On second-and-6 inside Packers territory, he saw Philadelphia Eagles right guard Matt Tobin lean on his outside foot. Green Bay's nose tackle remembered his film study, anticipated the middle of Philadelphia's offensive line spreading wide open.
Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez would be waiting in the pocket, unprotected.
"I knew I had him," Guion said. "So I just did a counter club and came through the middle, and I gave him everything I had."
Sitting at his locker after the Packers' 53-20 blowout win over the Eagles, Guion hesitated. He had no intention of calling Sanchez out. It's important to hit every quarterback, Guion said. Pressure leads to poor timing and bad decisions.
Still, Sanchez has a history. When he was with the New York Jets, opponents knew a few hits could rattle him. When Guion plopped all 315 pounds onto Sanchez -- burying him for a 7-yard loss and thwarting Philadelphia's opening drive -- Green Bay's plan was enacted.
Next series, Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal dropped Sanchez for a 9-yard loss on third down. Clay Matthews ended Philadelphia's third drive with another third-down sack. By that time, Green Bay already led 17-3. The route was on.
The Packers only hit Sanchez once after the Eagles' first three possessions, but that was enough. Sanchez completed 26-of-44 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He finished with 346 yards, but 86 came in the fourth quarter -- long after the outcome was decided.
Most importantly, Sanchez never looked comfortable Sunday.
"Guys like Sanchez, you need to get to him," Guion said. "Get to him early and rattle him up so you can knock him off rhythm. You don't want a quarterback like that to get on rhythm. It could be a long day if you get Sanchez on rhythm like he did the previous week."
Green Bay's offense once again will receive accolades this week. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers tossed three touchdown passes and no interceptions, the seventh game this season he's done that. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb both surpassed 100 receiving yards.
But the Packers defense delivered its most surprising, impressive performance of the season. The Eagles entered Lambeau Field ranked fourth in the league with 31 points and fifth with 404.3 yards per game.
They returned to Philly after scoring just 20 points, tied for a season low.
"Defensively, you're just seeing a unit that's playing faster," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "The personnel groups that we're getting in and out of, it's happening seamlessly. They are getting used to playing together in the combinations that we've kind of set for the second half.
"With that, our playmakers are making plays. We have a lot of playmakers on defense."
Take Matthews, who now has at least a half sack in four straight games for the first time since his rookie season. Or Peppers, whose 52-yard interception return for touchdown made him the first player in Packers history with two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same season.
Cornerback Casey Hayward returned a fumble 49 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, the second straight week he's scored on defense.
Safety Micah Hyde pitched in on special teams. His 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter came one week after his first career interception.
"Great blocking. I literally made one cut," Hyde said of his return. "I almost passed out from running. That's probably why my Lambeau Leap was so bad, but I was tired."
This wasn't supposed to happen. The Eagles entered with a 7-2 record, tied atop the surprisingly competitive NFC East. They were far from the middling Minnesota Vikings or collapsing Chicago Bears, divisional rivals the Packers blew out by a combined 97-24 at home.
No, the Eagles were going to be different. Their offense was supposed to give one of the league's worst run defense fits. That it didn't -- the Eagles finished with 109 yards, only 3.5 yards per carry--– should make Packers fans excited for what the future could hold.
"The victories we've strung together here at home have been quite impressive," Matthews said. "The points we've scored, as well as the points given up. When it's competitive out there, the defense has really been living up to the billing and the challenges put forth and placed upon us.
"The offense continuing to operate as a top offense, it makes our job easier. But historically, you look at contenders around the league, they have a great defense to go along with that offense."
There's a word that's bound to be heard more frequently, so long as the defense stays in its groove.
The Packers have looked like contenders in a wide-open NFC. Even before Sunday's blowout, their eight-point average margin of victory ranked fifth in the NFL.
Guion wasn't looking that far ahead. There are more challenges coming up. The next time Green Bay plays inside Lambeau Field, it will host the New England Patriots on Nov. 30.
The task of stopping Tom Brady is much different than facing Sanchez.
"We want to make a statement every week," Guion said. "We knew this was a high-powered offense coming out. We knew we needed to get on them, get on them fast, and slow them down. I feel like we did that today as a whole defense. As long as we keep playing as a complete defense, we'll keep winning.
"We still have more work to do. It's never done, until you get to the Super Bowl and win it."