Packers Insider: Thumbs up to defense, down to special teams
The good news Sunday for the Packers was that they demonstrated they could go on the road (even though the crowd made it feel like a home game) and more than hold their own against the NFL's only unbeaten team. The bad news was this felt like a game they could have won. We'll never know whether Aaron Rodgers might have marched the Packers down the field in the final two minutes for a winning score because of Ty Montgomery's kickoff-return fumble after the Rams took their final lead. The 29-27 loss drops the Packers to 3-3-1, but their strong showing should give them a full head of steam going to New England next Sunday.
The Packers led 27-26 and their defense forced a three-and-out from the Rams with under eight minutes remaining. But Green Bay also went three-and-out after Rodgers was sacked by Aaron Donald, and a short punt by rookie JS Scott set the Rams up at the Packers 40. A 23-yard run by Todd Gurley put the Rams in position for the 34-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein that proved to be decisive.
The Packers' defense did a masterful job of keeping the Rams in check for most of the first half and also came up big on several crucial plays in the second half. Sure, Mike Pettine's unit was burned for some big gains; Gurley rushed for 114 yards and caught passes for 81 more, and quarterback Jared Goff threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns. But using an intricate array of blitzes, the Packers' defense sacked Goff five times and did enough to win the game if it had gotten more help from the offense and special teams.
After playing well most of the day on kick coverage, Green Bay's special teams failed late. Scott's shanked, 25-yard punt with 5:30 left made it too easy for the Rams to maneuver into position and kick the go-ahead field goal. Then came Montgomery's senseless decision to return the ensuing kickoff from two yards deep in the end zone rather than downing it (which would've given the offense a little more time to work with) and of course the fumble caused and recovered by the Rams' Ramik Wilson that effectively ended the game.
» Perfectly mediocre: At this point in the schedule, NFL teams are what their record says they are – and the Packers remain a perfectly mediocre 3-3-1. The offense couldn’t take advantage of the defense’s best first-half of the season by scoring just 10 points – and giving the Rams two with a busted run play that resulted in a safety. The defense couldn’t turn the ball over and had some big mistakes in coverage in the second half, but then the special teams unit melted down in the final five and a half minutes with a botched punt and a fumbled kickoff return.
» Tale of two game plans: The Packers came out of the gate with intent to establish the run, deploying two to four tight ends and running the ball as much as they threw it in the first half. The Packers handed off 13 times to running backs and Aaron Rodgers dropped back to throw 15 times (including one sack and one scramble). The Packers went up 10-0 with this formula and managed to take a 10-8 lead into the half with 54 rush yards by the running backs (44 by Aaron Jones) and Rodgers threw for 127. In the second half, the Packers went to more four wide receiver sets and dropped back to throw 13 times while handing it off just three times in the third quarter (with Jones taking one run 33 yards for a score). In the fourth quarter, Rodgers threw it seven times and they handed it off just once. The Packers did score 17 points thanks to that change-up out of the break.
» Jaire Alexander returns: The first-round pick played his first game since leaving the win over Buffalo on Sept. 30, and Rams quarterback Jared Goff tested him. Often. And the rookie came up big all game, breaking up a deep ball to Brandin Cooks in the end zone. The Rams tried Cooks again on Alexander, along with Robert Woods and Nick Williams, and they also did not find success in catching the ball for much of the game – though the Rams were able to eventually complete a couple of long passes on the rookie in the second half. Alexander’s presence also allowed Mike Pettine to be creative with Tramon Williams, moving the veteran to the slot and using him as a blitzer.
» Packers start faster: One of the primary reasons the Packers came into Los Angeles at 3-2-1 is that they rarely held a first-quarter lead and rarely held two-score leads in the first halves of games. This was cited as reasons for run-pass imbalance on offense, and really no one had an answer for the early issues on defense. On Sunday, the Packers didn’t score on their first offensive possession, but the defense forced a Rams punt on theirs. Green Bay capitalized with a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The Packers then were able to take a 10-0 lead thanks to solid fundamental coverage and run defense. The Packers’ offense didn’t take advantage of the defense forcing five first-half punts from Los Angeles, however, but at least they weren’t trailing by multiple scores by halftime.
» Neutral site: Even though the Rams were the only unbeaten team in the league, high-flying on offense and stout on defense, Packers fans flooded the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The Rams had to go to a silent count at home. Packers plays were cheered loudly, and the Rams were booed vociferously. Rams fans did get loud when warranted, but the Packers definitely had the bulk of the 75,822-person crowd on their side.