Packers players talk about the defense's strong performance in their Week 5 victory over the Rams. (Oct. 11, 2015)
They warn about the danger of “hunting” interceptions. Take what the quarterback gives you, coaches say. No gambles. No big plays.
So Green Bay Packers rookie Quinten Rollins sat back in the first quarter, watched things unfold. The Packers were in zone defense, dividing their secondary into quarters. Rollins saw St. Louis Rams tight end Jared Cook coming from across the field, invading his area.
Rams quarterback Nick Foles didn’t see Rollins.
“I just made a break on the ball,” Rollins said. “It was a pick-6 from there.”
The next thing Rollins knew, he was leaping into the Lambeau Field stands with the football. His 45-yard interception return gave the Packers their first non-offensive touchdown this season. It was the defining snap in a 24-10 win, providing enough cushion to keep the feisty, up-and-coming Rams at bay.
Rollins was an unlikely hero Sunday, icing the game with his second interception late in the fourth quarter. The second-round pick had been almost invisible through his first four games, contributing mostly on special teams. Before Sunday, Rollins had just 20 defensive snaps. Cornerback Damarious Randall, the Packers’ first-round rookie, entered with 171.
It was Rollins who found the end zone first.
“That’s the way this game goes, man,” cornerback Sam Shields said. “You never know. You just play ball. Because picks are going to come. You’re never supposed to rush that. Through our whole room, that’s what we preach, ‘Just play ball. The picks are going to come.’ And it happens.”
Said Rollins: “You’re never going out there trying to hunt turnovers. You obviously want to create them when the opportunity presents itself, so that’s what we did today.”
The Packers didn’t have to hunt turnovers Sunday. Opportunities were in abundance. It started up front, where a Packers pass rush overshadowed all week by its counterpart was dominant, setting the tone early.
The Rams’ defensive line entered Lambeau Field after being much ballyhooed through the season’s opening month. St. Louis entered with 17 sacks, tied for most in the league. There wasn’t much talk about the team they were tied with.
That would be the Packers.
The Rams’ defensive front was disruptive again, forcing Rodgers into three turnovers at home for the first time in his career. It was the Packers’ pass rush that dominated. Foles threw 30 passes Sunday. He was hit 12 times, with three sacks.
“We’re all hungry,” said defensive end Datone Jones, who wrapped his arms around Foles’ legs to throw him off balance before his interception to Rollins. “Everyone wants to get sacks. That’s the key to getting paid. So, hey, if you want to get paid, get sacks. We’re all competing, and we’re going to stop these quarterbacks so we can get off the field, win big games.”
It wasn’t the first time Jones had pestered Foles. They met twice in college, when Jones was a defensive end at UCLA, Foles a quarterback at Arizona. Their first NFL meeting came in 2013, when Jones sacked Foles twice at Lambeau Field.
So Jones knew what to expect from Foles on Sunday — a quarterback with a quick release who doesn’t throw interceptions. Two years ago, Foles had arguably the most efficient season in NFL history, throwing 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He had just one interception in this season’s first four games.
On Sunday, the Packers picked off Foles four times. Twice in the first quarter.
“We did a fairly good job of that today putting hits on him,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Especially early on. I think a few of those interceptions I’m sure he felt the heat and maybe threw an interception that he didn’t want.”
Outside the Packers’ locker room, Foles’ interceptions were surprising. It was the first time he’d ever thrown four interceptions in a game, dating to his first college season in 2007. He’d never thrown three picks in an NFL game.
Quietly, the Packers’ secondary was confident. Rollins said coaches predicted they’d have “at least four” interceptions Sunday. During his preparation this week, Casey Hayward saw other defenses miss plenty of opportunities.
“Watching the film,” Hayward said, “we knew there were some plays out there that we could go and get. It was some opportunities from other teams that they didn’t capitalize on, but that’s the same with our offense. Sometimes, that’s how it happens. They got a good defense, and we just want to come out there and be the best defense every time we step on the field.”
After Foles was hit a couple times, Rollins said, he noticed the quarterback getting uncomfortable in the pocket. The Packers sped up Foles’ internal clock, making him jittery. They weren’t necessary sacking him, Foles’ quick release getting rid of the football just in time. On Sunday, they didn’t need to.
When Foles wilted under pressure, Rollins was waiting.
“He’s a good player,” Hayward said of Rollins. “That’s what we drafted him for. I talk to him all the time. He kind of got the little knack (for the football), kind of like me. I kind of consider him one of the ball hawks, and he’s been doing it since he’s been here, from camp to OTAs and things like that.”
email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood