When the Green Bay Packers lost in Week 6 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a blueprint was laid out for everyone to examine on what works in successfully beating Green Bay — or at least what to do to contain them.
Replicating such a performance in the NFL is easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to do so against Aaron Rodgers. Some teams don’t have the personnel, others don’t have the scheme. Heading into this Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, not only do the Colts have the personnel to cause havoc, they also have the scheme.
Since that loss to the Buccaneers, the Packers are 3-1. By zooming out, we can see that the Packers followed the loss in Tampa Bay with a 35-20 win over the Houston Texans. Houston not only didn’t have the personnel to match up with the Packers offense, their scheme was stale as well. Rodgers was never sacked, and was hit only once all afternoon.
Against the Vikings the following week, it’s fair to say Mike Zimmer drew up a masterpiece in the second half, and the Vikings went on to win 28-22. He didn’t necessarily have the personnel, but the scheme worked. They made life difficult for Rodgers and the offense in the second half, and while the sacks wouldn’t show that, the quarterback hurries and the constant scrambling by Rodgers would shine a light on it.
To simply summarize the two most recent games: Green Bay waxed the San Francisco 49ers, who had a ton of injuries and didn’t have the personnel, and the Packers edged the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had the right idea of getting physical with Green Bay, but ultimately they just don’t have enough key players yet on the defensive side.
Now up: Indianapolis. I’ve always believed you can make stats look any way you want. If you want to cast a doom and gloom scenario for a player or a team, there will be stats to support your evidence. If you want to to be overly optimistic and the ultimate hype person for a team or player, you will find the numbers to do so. However, there isn’t a damn soul who can objectively sit back and lecture anyone that the Indianapolis defense has been anything other than really, really good this year. Stats, eye ball test, opposing players voicing their thoughts, you name it.
The Colts have not only been one of the best defensive teams so far, but what they do well is exactly what makes Green Bay struggle when they do.
Their defense is unique in that they can get pressure on the quarterback, but they do so without blitzing that often. It’s somewhat odd considering when they have dialed up more blitzes, as they did in the Detroit Lions game two weeks ago, it had glowing results. The Colts rank 30th in the NFL in blitz percentage, according to Pro Football Reference. However, they rank 7th in quarterback hurries per drop back, which is worrisome for the Packers considering, again, that they don’t blitz all that often.
While the amount of pressure that they can apply and how they do it is something to note, painting a broad brush on this defense tells the story as well. The Colts rank 4th in points given up per game (19.7), and they rank 1st in total defense (296 yards per game). They’ve done it with different guys playing the role of hero, but the two focal points to keep tabs on are Darius Leonard and Xavier Rhodes.
Yes, Xavier Rhodes.
Rhodes has regained his old form from his early years in Minnesota this season. He ranks 6th at his position according to Pro Football Focus. Many had written Rhodes off after a terrible individual season a year ago. This year he has shown that there is plenty of gas left in the tank.
Additionally, the Packers have gone up against Eric Kendricks, Fred Warner, Myles Jack recently — and now they get Darius Leonard. You could argue those are four of the best linebackers in the NFL. Leonard has no weaknesses. He’s good against the run, he’s excellent in pass coverage, and he can supply pressure on the quarterback when called upon. The dude was an All-Pro as a rookie, second team last year, and is well on his way this season to being right there again. He is the spotlight player on the defense.
The matchup of the Packers offense against the Colts defense is what to watch on Sunday. A win doesn’t mean the Packers have solved all issues, a loss doesn’t spell disaster — which worth noting considering the outrage after a 24-20 WIN against the Jaguars last week.
Sure it will be fun watching Philip Rivers against the Packers defense as well. Watching Za’Darius Smith tracking Rivers will be entertaining, the backend of the secondary trying to ball hawk some interceptions, yes. But as far as a litmus test goes, this game could very well tell us how far this Packers team might be able to go this year when we watch their offense against that Colts defense.