GREEN BAY - During the week, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix saw the same play over and over on film. Pass rushers came screaming at Andrew Luck, often unblocked. They aimed low, diving at the Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s legs.
And they missed.
Luck is 6-foot-4, 240 pounds of muscle. For a man his size, Clinton-Dix knew, the Colts quarterback is also agile. Athletic. A pass rusher’s nightmare.
“You can’t really go in and hit him low,” Clinton-Dix said.
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With three minutes left Sunday, Clinton-Dix had a chance to give the Green Bay Packers' offense one last attempt at a stunning comeback.
On third-and-10, the Packers safety came virtually unblocked. Colts running back Frank Gore lunged, barely grazed Clinton-Dix with his left hand, failing to even slow him down. A clean shot, Clinton-Dix wasn’t letting Luck make another Houdini escape.
He aimed high. He wrapped both arms around Luck’s chest.
And he missed.
“He’s a strong quarterback, man,” Clinton-Dix said, shaking his head in front of his locker. “…I took my chance high, and I missed. He’s a great quarterback, and I made a mistake.”
Luck’s great escape wasn’t just Sunday’s defining play, sealing the Packers' unexpected 31-26 loss at Lambeau Field. It was a replay. Some unwelcome déjà vu.
A week earlier, a Packers pass rush missing Clay Matthews hardly managed to annoy Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Sunday was different. The Packers brought extra pass rushers against the Colts, ramping up their blitz against the league’s worst offensive line.
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They pestered Andrew Luck. They hit Andrew Luck. They put plenty of grass stains on his white No. 12 uniform.
He just wasn’t sacked nearly enough.
The Packers had only two Sunday. It tied for the fewest the Colts allowed in their nine-game season.
“I think we did pretty well rushing,” rookie outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell said. “Got him off the spot, but he does move pretty well. But I think that was still good. One of the (two) picks that he threw was when we flushed him out.”
If the Packers were hoping to scrape by one more week without Clay Matthews, it made sense.
Need to rest your best pass rusher? The Colts are a perfect opponent. They entered Sunday allowing 31 sacks in eight games, easily most in the league. They had allowed five more sacks than any other team.
Their offensive line was injured, underperforming. Week after week, the unit puts Andrew Luck’s health in jeopardy. Seven days before traveling to Green Bay, the Colts allowed six sacks at home against the Kansas City Chiefs.
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The Chiefs entered that game with just eight sacks all season.
So Matthews or no Matthews, the Packers pass rush shouldn’t have walked away so empty handed. This team prides itself on the defensive front being a strength, complete with a wealth of pass rushers.
On Sunday, they were practically shut out.
Both sacks came from safeties. Clinton-Dix got to Luck in the second quarter, splitting a half sack with outside linebacker Nick Perry. Morgan Burnett sacked Luck in the fourth. The Packers defensive front got almost nothing.
“We got pretty good pressure on him all game,” Peppers said. “We pressured a lot more than we normally do. When we had a chance to get him down, we just didn’t get him down enough.”
The pass rush was an easy, deserving scapegoat. There was no excuse. No reason not to knock the Colts backward time after time.
Sacking Luck isn’t easy. He can outmuscle linebackers, overpower defensive backs. But plenty other teams have done it this season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars sacked him six times.
The Chicago Bears sacked him five times.
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The Denver Broncos got five more.
Championship teams sack Andrew Luck. This season, even bad teams sack him. The Packers paled in comparison.
It merely continued a theme from the past month. The Packers entered Sunday ranked 12th leaguewide in sacks, but that’s misleading. This is a pass rush trending down.
The Packers had at least three sacks in each of their first four games. They haven’t had three sacks in any of their past four. Without Matthews, they have four sacks total the past two weeks.
“We need everybody back,” Guion said, “but that’s not the problem. We just lost today.”
The problem is not enough big plays from players on the field. On third down and the game on the line, the Packers had a chance to make one Sunday.
They just missed.
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