Green Bay Packers

Turnovers and Stops: The Packers Defense Stepped Up

Photo Credit: William Glasheen (USA TODAY NETWORK)

Let’s get out in front of this. Yes the Chicago Bears ended up with 25 points and 351 total yards last night. Don’t be deceived by it. The Green Bay Packers led 41-10 entering the 4th quarter and the Bears were able to string together 15 garbage time points with the game well out of reach. Would it be better if the Packers defense showed some sort of resistance in putting the final nail in the coffin? Of course. However, the Packers defense stepped up and played pretty damn well in a game where they didn’t necessarily need to (see what Aaron Rodgers did), but it was important for them to going forward when they will face better offenses.

Don’t be alarmed by the final stats from last night. This has been a theme this year in blowouts. The Packers led the Minnesota Vikings 29-10 in Week 1 before giving up 24 garbage time points in the final frame, still winning the game by two possessions, 43-34. The game against the San Francisco 49ers is another example. The Packers led that game 31-3 going into the 4th before giving up 14 meaningless points and plenty of yards. So don’t go box score reading and look at the bare stats, it won’t accurately portray the story.

Something that has been lacking massively on the defensive side for Green Bay this year has been takeaways. I mentioned in my article last week that there are so many playmakers on this defense, and the lack of success forcing turnovers was puzzling. The Packers defense ranked 30th in takeaways entering last night. They added three to that total and every single one of them led to a touchdown.

Darnell Savage started the season slow and underwhelming. The second-year safety and first round pick out of Maryland showed flashes his rookie year, leading many to believe Year 2 would be even better. After a slow start, something clicked or changed or I don’t know what, because he’s really stepped up the last few weeks. PFF isn’t the be-all end-all, but is it worth noting Savage has improved his overall grade each week since Week 8, topping out last night with his best ball of the season, according to them.

Last night with the Packers leading 13-3 and the Bears driving, Mitchell Trubisky thought he had single coverage off a play-fake deep down the field. Instead, Savage rotated his hips, provided over the top coverage for Chandon Sullivan on Darnell Mooney, and easily made the interception in the end zone for a touchback. A mere 13 plays and 80 yards later, Rodgers found Allen Lazard hanging out in the end zone by himself for an easy touchdown to go up 20-3. And with the Packers leading 27-10 in the 3rd quarter, Savage notched his second interception. That one can be chalked up to a horrible read by Trubisky who tossed up a throw into triple coverage. Savage made an athletic leap to haul in the pick and set up a short field. All it took was four plays to go 53 yards before Rodgers found Robert Tonyan on a post route; 34-10 Packers.

Preston Smith has had a real head-scratching season. He seems to have been lacking the burst from a season ago. Certainly the big sacks and quarterback pressures have been less noticeable. This seemed to be the consensus by many as Rashan Gary got the start over Smith last night and only played two less snaps total than Preston.

Now, to Gary’s credit, he has been causing chaos for the opposition the last couple weeks, and his game has been ascending to new levels. That and Smith’s lack of consistency may have led to that brief switch. I think it got the attention of Preston. Last night was shades of last season for No. 91. Not only did Smith have multiple quarterback pressures and a sack, on a 3rd and 17 with Chicago deep in their own territory in the second quarter, Kenny Clark and Za’Darius Smith instantly got the push and harassed Trubisky, forcing a fumble. Good old Preston Smith was in the right place at the right time, scooping up the rock and waltzing into the end zone. It had Packers fans rejoicing everywhere and screaming, “FINALLY.”

We’ve seen the Packers offense vibe and have success more times than not while the defense seems to be trying to piece together the puzzle. Forcing three turnovers that lead directly to 21 points will win you a game in the NFL most weeks. I know it was against a struggling Trubisky starting his first game since Week 3, and one of the worst offenses in the league. But let’s face it: The Packers defense has been extremely middle of the pack and pretty meh all year long. The hope is they are able to build off this and carry the confidence going forward.

Did they finally figure something out last night to help long term? Doubtful. But let’s see if they can roll over a really good performance into another one next Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles come to Lambeau Field.

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Photo Credit: William Glasheen (USA TODAY NETWORK)

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