Mike Daniels was without question the Green Bay Packers’ player of the game in their win over Seattle on Sunday.
But another big reason coordinator Dom Capers’ defense held the Seahawks to only three field goals was Daniels’ partner in the interior of the defensive line, second-year pro Kenny Clark.
The two provided the backbone for the Packers’ nitro package, where safety Morgan Burnett moves up to inside linebacker. For that smaller, faster lineup to work, the interior of the defensive line has to win against the run, and on Sunday both Daniels and Clark won consistently.
We saw signs of this in the preseason. The little that Daniels and Clark played together, they were borderline dominant stopping the run. It carried over to Sunday.
While Daniels’ stat line says it all (seven tackles, 1½ sacks, a fumble forced, a tackle for a loss, four quarterback hits), Clark’s reveals next to nothing. He had one tackle and knocked down one pass. That’s it.
But his impact, while not nearly as great as Daniels’, was real. Seattle’s running backs (Eddie Lacy, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise) combined for only 53 yards rushing on 15 carries (3.5-yard average). The Packers’ defensive tandem played a major role in that.
Also, a big part of coordinator Dom Capers’ game plan also was to hem quarterback Russell Wilson in the pocket. Wilson is at his best working off play action, throwing off bootlegs and waggles, and improvising plays (run and pass) as a scrambler. As a pocket passer, though, he’s not going to beat you.
The Packers kept Wilson mostly in the pocket. He had two runs, both big, scrambles of 29 and 11 yards. But he didn’t have many completions throwing on the move, and throwing mostly from the pocket he was ineffective, as his 69.7 rating and 14-for-27 passing mark for the day suggest.
The entire Packers’ front was responsible for keeping Wilson hemmed in. That included Daniels and Clark pushing the pocket to take away scramble lanes up the middle.
Clark is starting show the abilities that convinced general manager Ted Thompson to draft him at No. 27 overall last year. He liked Clark’s quickness off the ball and power in the middle of the line, and those abilities are starting to show through.
Whether he made tackles or not, Clark often played on the other side of the line of scrimmage Sunday, which closed running lanes and helped keep blockers off Burnett. Clark usually was the aggressor and didn’t get washed into the way of the linebackers, which happened sometimes last year. He’s much better at using his hands than as a rookie.
Clark’s one tackle Sunday was the culmination of all that. It came in the third quarter, with Seattle facing a third and one. He lined up over center, got a couple yards push on his rush without giving up a lane, and then when Wilson tried to scramble past him, he took the quarterback down short of the first down.
That was no run-of-the-mill play. Wilson is as elusive a quarterback as there is the NFL, yet Clark had the lateral quickness to track him down. Outside linebacker Nick Perry was penalized for being offsides, so that kept the drive alive. But the play was another indication that Clark is an ascending player. At only age 21, he’s still isn’t the pass rusher the Packers project he might be, but he’s proven disruptive against the run.
There also wasn’t much drop-off when veteran Ricky Jean Francois (six snaps) filled in. He’s not as powerful as Clark, but he’s fairly quick off the ball. You have to think the Packers picked up Quinton Dial (6-5, 318) last week to give them another power player for their rotation.
The test will be much tougher this Sunday night against Atlanta, whose running back (Devonta Freeman) and offensive line are better than anything Seattle fielded. But the Packers’ chances of holding up look better than they did in the NFC championship game.
Kyle Murphy couldn’t have faced a much tougher matchup for his first NFL start.
The second-year pro, filling in at right tackle for injured Bryan Bulaga (ankle), faced maybe the NFL’s best defensive line Sunday. He often lined up across from one of the NFL’s most disruptive defenders, Michael Bennett. And when it wasn’t Bennett, it usually was another good pass rusher, Cliff Avril.
All in all, Murphy played OK. He gave up two sacks, and while quarterback Aaron Rodgers deserves partial responsibility on one, Murphy played both poorly. He lunges and gets his weight too far over his feet sometimes as a pass blocker, and he sometimes gets caught flailing.
But as the game went on, Murphy also appeared to get stronger and took some control.
The first sack, on a third-and-10 in the first quarter, was an example of him getting out over his toes too far. He reached for Avril, so was off balance and unable to knock Avril even a little off track there. The result was a quick sack.
On the second sack, early in the second quarter, Murphy again got off balance against a stunt. Bennett looped around from an inside rush to Murphy, and when Murphy reached for Bennett, the defensive lineman easily pushed him aside and sacked Rodgers from behind. Rodgers held the ball too long, but if Murphy would have sat down and blocked Bennett rather than reached for him, Rodgers might have escaped the collapsing pocket.
Coach Mike McCarthy protected Murphy at times with a tight end chipping on his side. That helped. And Murphy now has a full game of videotape against quality NFL defensive linemen to learn from.
Martellus Bennett showed Sunday why he’s a better all-around tight end than the player he replaced, Jared Cook. Take a look at Ty Montgomery’s six-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Bennett made one of the key blocks by pushing cornerback Shaquill Griffin into the end zone. Montgomery followed him in for the score.
Yes, Bennett was blocking a much smaller player. But the Packers don’t score on that play last year with Cook or Richard Rodgers in that spot. Bennett just drove Griffin back five yards. The Packers haven’t had that kind of blocking on the edge for years.
» The Packers have to be happy with rookie punter Justin Vogel’s debut. In a low-scoring game that put a premium on field position, Vogel had a solid performance. His 42.5-yard net average on five punts was good, and his 57-yarder (50-yard net) with the Packers backed up at their own 8 in the second quarter with the game still scoreless was big. It kept Seattle from flipping the field. A poor punt on that one would have given Seahawks at least three points, if not set them up for seven.
Quarterback: Rodgers (86.5 rating) was under duress much of the day but a couple times needed to get the ball out quicker. Grade: B+
Running backs: Everything is tougher against one of the league’s best defenses, but Montgomery (54 yards rushing, 39 receiving) and Jamaal Williams (nine yards on two carries) need to be more explosive. Grade: C
Tight ends: Newcomers Bennett and Lance Kendrick have upgraded the run blocking, especially Bennett. They’ll need to be more productive (combined five catches for 61 yards) as receivers as the season goes on. Grade: B+
Wide receivers: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams combined for three catches of 20 yards or more, but they lacked separation at times against man coverage. Nelson’s 32-yard touchdown was an excellent route. Grade: B-
Offensive line: This group helped open the hole for a six-yard touchdown run. But center Corey Linsley rolled a shotgun snap, and Rodgers (eight hits) took too much punishment. Grade: C-
Defensive line: Daniels (38 snaps), Clark (36), Dean Lowry (15) and Jean Francois (6) created more push on the line that the defense ever did last year. Daniels (1½ sacks, forced fumble) dominated. Grade: A-
Linebackers: The rest of this group needs to match Perry’s consistent pass rush (1½ sacks) and run force. Grade: B-
Cornerbacks: The perimeter of Quinten Rollins, Davon House and Damarious Randall was much more physical against the run and played faster in coverage than the Packers showed last season. Grade: B-
Safeties: Burnett was sound playing inside linebacker in the nitro and had great coverage on Seattle’s best receiving weapon, tight end Jimmy Graham. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix saved a possible touchdown with his hit on receiver Amara Darboh along the sideline in the fourth quarter. Grade: B+
Special teams: The only soft spot was Mason Crosby’s 69-yard opening kickoff. Rookie punter Vogel (43.8-yard gross, 42.2 net) kept the Seahawks from starting with good field position. Grade: B+