Insider: Thumbs up to pass D, down to WRs
THE BIG PICTURE
Coach Mike McCarthy likes to divide the 16-game season into quarters, and after forging a 4-0 mark in their first segment, the Packers began what loomed as a much more difficult quarter Sunday with a 24-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Next up are the San Diego Chargers, who boast a potent passing attack with quarterback Philip Rivers and a resurgent running game led by rookie and former Wisconsin star Melvin Gordon. After a bye week, the Packers will travel to Denver for what figures to be the season's toughest test against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, followed by a road test at unbeaten Carolina. The "third quarter" of the season will consist entirely of NFC North games, two against the woeful Lions and one each against the Vikings and Bears, and the Packers already are firmly in control of the division.
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Packers' offense was spinning its wheels at the start of the second half. The Rams had pulled to within 14-10 and the unthinkable had happened: two Aaron Rodgers interceptions in one game at Lambeau Field, and the Green Bay quarterback clearly was having trouble finding any open receivers. But for once, the Packers got the ball to start the second half, and Rodgers went to his Mr. Reliable — James Jones — for the game's biggest play, a 65-yard touchdown pass (after the Packers challenged the original ruling that Jones went out at the 1-yard line). Jones caught the ball around the Rams' 48 and showed at age 31 that he still has some speed. Just like that, the Packers were back in command with a 21-10 lead.
The Packers' defense has been solid all season, but on this day the pass defense in particular rose to the level of outstanding. Four interceptions, two by rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins, one of which he returned 45 yards for the Packers' second touchdown. "I saw green grass, a lot of green grass ... it was pick-six from there," Rollins said. The defense sacked Nick Foles three times and kept the heat on the Rams quarterback throughout. Clay Matthews had a monster game, getting credited for 1½ sacks (including a clean burst up the middle that dropped Foles for an eight-yard loss on a key fourth-quarter play) and four quarterback hits. Julius Peppers and Datone Jones each had three QB hits as the Packers forced the Rams to rely heavily on their running game, even while trailing by two scores midway through the fourth quarter.
Although Rodgers threw two interceptions, much of the blame should go to a receiving corps that had trouble getting separation from Rams defenders all day. "They kind of challenged us in the box and then challenged us outside and we didn't get open enough and didn't throw it well enough today," Rodgers said. "We've got to run routes a little better. We've got to be able to get open outside better. Obviously, I've got to throw it better than I did today and clean some of those things up." Other than Jones' big play and Ty Montgomery's 31-yard TD catch on the Packers' first drive (when he was left wide open thanks to a blown coverage), the Packers got little production from their wide receivers. Tight end Richard Rodgers led the way with six catches for 45 yards (although he dropped what could've been a 30-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter).
RANTS & RAVES
RAVE: Yes, Rodgers was intercepted twice after entering Sunday's game riding a six-game streak without throwing a regular-season interception anywhere (and a much-longer streak at Lambeau Field). But Rodgers nonetheless delivered when it mattered and managed the game masterfully without much help from the running game.
RANT: Eddie Lacy came into Sunday's game off a strong effort (18 carries for 90 yards) against the 49ers, but he was a no-show against the Rams' rugged defensive front (13 carries for only 27 yards). James Starks also didn't get much done (17 yards on five carries) as St. Louis took away the inside run and forced the Packers to go outside.
RAVE: The challenges just keep coming for the Packers' run defense. After holding up well against Marshawn Lynch (41 yards on 15 carries), Jamaal Charles (49 on 11) and Carlos Hyde (20 on eight), the Packers were gashed by Rams rookie sensation Todd Gurley (159 yards on 30 carries). But to its credit, the run defense kept the Rams out of the end zone and held Gurley in check on most of his carries (allowing just a couple of breakaways).
RANT: Special teams play has been improving steadily for the Packers after a worrisome preseason, but the Rams burned them badly on a fake punt in the third quarter when cornerback Demetri Goodson lost his footing on a 20-yard pass from Rams punter Johnny Hekker to Cody Davis. And Jeff Janis wasn't able to prevent a beautiful Tim Masthay punt from trickling into the end zone for a touchback.
RANT: The Packers just can't get healthy on the offensive line. No sooner does right tackle Bryan Bulaga's return from knee surgery provide a nice boost than another injury hits, with right guard T.J. Lang limping off with a bum knee in the second quarter and not returning. The line still managed to hold its own protecting Rodgers against the Rams' daunting defensive line, featuring Aaron Donald and four other first-round picks, but failed to open many holes for the ground game.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» The Packers have won 12 straight home games (including playoffs), the longest active streak in the league. It is the second-longest home streak under McCarthy (they won 13 straight in 2010-11).
» The Packers are 5-0 for only the second time in the last 50 years (they started 13-0 in 2011).
» The Packers have scored in the first quarter in 21 straight games, the longest ongoing streak in the NFL.
» Randall Cobb extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one reception to 46 with a 10-yard catch in the second quarter.
» The paid attendance of 78,432 marked the 312th consecutive sellout at Lambeau Field.
» The Packers now have won five straight regular-season games against the Rams by a combined score 147-64.
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