Mike Pettine's message resonates for Packers' defense in shutout of Bills

Jim Owczarski
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Sometimes, seeing raw data can place a hard, tangible outline to a feeling. You can think you know something. You can develop a perception of what’s going on by questions you’re asked, or what you read and hear. But when facts are facts and they’re thrown up on a screen to illustrate it – along with choice words from a coach – it can really open eyes.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine did that with his group Saturday at Lambeau Field. He called their first-half effort a week ago in Washington wildly inconsistent. That wasn’t new, necessarily – it was a phrase that could define their first three games.

But Pettine wanted to truly lay it out for them, with a highlight on the first three quarters of each of the three previous games heading into Sunday’s contest with Buffalo.

Through three weeks, the Packers allowed 52 points in the first half, giving up 7.4 yards per play (346 yards) in the first quarter and 7.1 yards per play (291 yards) in the second quarter. 

The third? They allowed just three total points and 3.4 yards per play (143 yards).

"Black and white,” Packers outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert said. “It was night and day.”

Those first halves were rife with penalties, breakdowns and deficits that were hard to overcome. Pettine’s message to his defense was simple: No mistakes, no excuses, and play for 60 minutes like you do for 15.

“When you go back to the facts, it kind of speaks (loudly),” Packers inside linebacker Oren Burks said. “We know what type of defense we can be. Just start fast, like the third quarter.”

The message resonated against the Bills, as the Packers forced a punt or turnover on every Buffalo possession in a 22-0 victory, putting a zero on the board for the first time since 2010 against the New York Jets.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead (35) pressures Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) late in the fourth quarter during their football game Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. 
Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

“It just showed us exactly who we are as a defense,” safety Jermaine Whitehead said of the Saturday meeting. “We decided we weren’t going to listen to reporters, fans or what nobody had to say but us. We came out and played ball.”

And it was the most complete performance to date for the Packers, who sacked Bills quarterback Josh Allen seven times, hit him 10 times and intercepted him twice. The rookie was 16-for-33 passing for 151 yards and a 36.3 rating.

Green Bay forced three turnovers, after just two through the first three weeks and allowed 145 yards of total offense, its best total since allowing 109 to Tampa Bay in 2014.

And Buffalo was just 3-for-16 (19 percent) on third down and averaged just 2.6 yards per play.

Those were numbers reserved for perhaps the third quarters. Not Sunday.

“The stats show it. The stats show it,” Packers linebacker Antonio Morrison said. “I feel like we put a complete game together this week and we’ll keep moving forward.”

Pettine provided an outline for his group Saturday, and Sunday he colored it in with pressure packages and looks to confuse Allen, making just his third start in the league.

“We’re capable of playing great defense and being dominant,” said outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell, who sacked Allen three times. “And really, in those first halves where we didn’t play so well and the second halves when we did, none of the calls changed. Nothing did. Whatever it as, it was just kind of on us to play that full game and put it together.”

Green Bay is now 2-1-1, and the defense is feeling good. But to go from 15 minutes of consistency to 60 in one game is one thing. Now, as veteran corner Tramon Williams cautioned, stringing 60 minutes of that to the next 60 and beyond is another. 

It's the next step the defense must take.

“It can spur some guys because we know we have it, we know we’ve seen it,” Williams said. “We just have to find a way to consistently get there. We know things change. You can play different opponents who you just match up well against. Which could have been a part of today. It could be an opponent we just match up well against. But we did what we had to do.

"Then you’ll get other teams in different situations where it’s a more explosive offense out there and you just have to contain them. It’s all circumstantial and it becomes part of the game plan, what we’re going to do and how we’re going to attack them and what we don’t want to give up to them. It becomes more of all of that stuff as it goes.”

Williams knows the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots await, along with divisional opponents in Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit that can light up a scoreboard. But Pettine's message, and Sunday's victory was a start.

“We got it in us to play solid defense," Gilbert said. "But as far as coming out of the gates, we’ve been coming out way too slow. We’ve been waiting 'til the second half to really wake up. I feel like today we were able to put forth a full ballgame.”


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