'Primetime Preston' leads the Packers best defensive performance of the season against Rams
GREEN BAY − Preston Smith has a new nickname.
“I had seen somebody call me Primetime Preston," he said. "I thought it was pretty cool.”
The moniker fits. Smith, the Packers veteran outside linebacker, now has 10 quarterback sacks in his past nine primetime games after notching two of Green Bay's five Monday night against Baker Mayfield and the Los Angeles Rams.
“Rebs (Packers outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich) told me a fun fact, too, that I didn’t know,” Smith said. “He said anytime I get a sack on the first drive of the game, it’s always a multi-sack game. Just finding out new stuff every day.”
Rookies Quay Walker, Kingsley Enagbare and Devonte Wyatt all contributed in the sack category, as well linebacker Justin Hollins, who was claimed on waivers from the Rams on Nov. 24. Hollins and Wyatt split as sack, as the latter drove a rolling Mayfield into Hollins' arms.
“Oh that’s for sure a sack,” Hollins joked of the gift. “That’s for sure a sack. People was en route. I guess I don’t know what happened on their end. But from my perspective, it looked like a sack so it was a sack.”
Whether Mayfield walked into the sack or not, the takeaway for the Packers defense is they were in position to make him pay. Mayfield has long been a scrambling quarterback; not in the sense that he’ll try to pick up a lot of yardage with his feet, but in that he will do whatever he can to keep the play alive. Once he’s left the pocket, Mayfield has no qualms about rolling one way, reversing field and holding on to the ball until the last second. It’s allowed him to make some spectacular and unlikely plays. It also allowed the Packers to tee off Monday night.
“We had him bottled up,” Smith said, "and sometimes running, you know, trying to make plays with your feet and get the things open. It’s not always best 'cause sometimes you don't know where the guys are around you and I guess, you know, a lot of guys like Justin benefited off it tonight, running straight to him and giving him a free sack."
Added Hollins, “For a guy that can scramble, Baker’s a great athlete, a great quarterback. But he held on to the ball a little longer than some quarterbacks have and it just gave us good time to get to him.”
It was Smith who spearheaded a defensive performance that saw the Packers sack Mayfield five times and pressure him with nine quarterback hurries in their best showing of the season. With complementary football on the offensive side, the Packers kept their playoff hopes alive with a 24-12 win.
“Guys were just playing sound and I just happened to be the guy benefiting,” Smith said. “We had some great rushes on a lot of those times, times I had the pressure or I got the sacks. Had some great coverage, great guys that was rushing. Everybody was just doing their job at a high level and I know a lot of guys benefitted tonight.
“We was all on one accord tonight and guys was playing at a high level in every phase. I feel like we was doing that pretty well. Guys just maximized the opportunities.”
That harmonious accord started up front. Coming into the game, the Packers were allowing 5.0 yards per carry on the ground, third worst in the NFL. Against the Rams and a decimated offensive line, the Packers allowed 4.2 yards per game.
“D-line was getting a lot of pressure,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. "Quay (Walker) and Moon Pie (linebacker De’Vondre Campbell) was flying around and we just had a good plan."
Walker finished with five tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry, two passes defended and a forced fumble.
In total, the Rams netted a mere 156 yards, with 13 first downs (three by penalty). Mayfield was held to 12-for-21 passing for 111 yards, one touchdown and one interception. One reason the Rams yardage was so sparse was a lack of downfield plays. Instead, they had to live off primarily quick outs and swings to the sideline.
Whether that was due to unwillingness or necessity, given Mayfield’s still relative unfamiliarity with the playbook (he’s been with the Rams less than two weeks), the Packers were the beneficiaries.
“I don’t know if they’re not doing it 'cause Baker’s not fully equipped in the offense yet so they’re trying to give him short stuff. Usually Baker takes a lot of shots,” Douglas said. “Last year, he took a lot of shots. So it was kinda like surprising that he wasn’t. But maybe I think we were doing a good job on the backend and the pass rush was getting there that he had to just kinda, ‘OK, let me take what I can get.’”
The result was a quiet night in the secondary, as Mayfield threw downfield of 15 yards or more only three times.
“I had a pretty boring night honestly,” corner Jaire Alexander said. “But, hey, you know, that’s how it is on the island. Gotta love it. It is what it is. We got a dub.”
Added Smith, “(Mayfield) just played, he played their system and he did pretty well for them. It did well enough for us, too.”
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The caveat to this entire discussion is that the Rams left Lambeau Field as a 4-10 football team, with a quarterback who just got there, behind an offensive line that can’t put together a healthy and complete unit, while missing not only their best player, but arguably the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald.
What it provides the Packers defense in confidence, however, can’t be quantified. As they get ready to head to Miami to take on the Dolphins and their dangerous offense, coach Matt LaFleur wants to see the energy duplicated, even as the game plan changes.
Said LaFleur, "That’s what we need moving forward. Certainly, going down to Miami, I think Tua (Tagovailoa) has been playing great and they have a very, very, very explosive offense. A very creative offense, and it’s going to be critical for us to get pressure on the quarterback in order to give us an opportunity to win the game."