It wasn’t always pretty for Joe Barry’s defense on Sunday. Memories of the previous week’s loss began to haunt some Green and Gold faithful after the Green Bay Packers yielded 17 first-half points to the Los Angeles Rams. But Green Bay’s defense rebounded in the second half and silenced Matthew Stafford and the Rams until the game was well out of hand. And they did it by keeping things simple.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Barry sent more than four rushers on just one of Stafford’s 40 dropbacks, an astoundingly low number.
The results were pretty damn good in the second half.
While Green Bay only recorded two sacks, the four-man rush consistently proved to be enough. The big boys up front, including Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary, made things uncomfortable for Stafford in the pocket all day. When the Packers — or any team, for that matter — can regularly get pressure with only four rushers, it naturally makes things far more difficult on the quarterback because he has to account for all those defenders lurking in the secondary. Stafford learned that the hard way on Sunday.
It was a bold strategy for Barry, but the results warranted him continuing to roll the dice with it. Had Stafford gotten big windows of time to make throws and started to carve up the Packers’ defense, Barry would have had to adjust. But it never came to that.
Instead, Green Bay’s defense racked up five quarterback hits, gave Stafford happy feet in the pocket, and produced a third-quarter dagger that finished off LA. Rasul Douglas, who has proven time and again to be an incredible in-season acquisition, had a brilliant pick-six in the third quarter that got Lambeau Field rocking.
That game-shifting play put Green Bay up 19 and allowed Barry to keep deploying a four-man rush while focusing on not giving up anything over the top. While it wasn’t bulletproof, it was more than good enough.
The box-score numbers show that Stafford threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns. The basic stats miss that Green Bay gave up a lot of that yardage when they were already up big and willing to allow passes underneath to keep the clock moving. Stafford hit on two big throws, one early on to Van Jefferson. Outside of that 79-yard bomb and a late 54-yard connection to Odell Beckham Jr., the Packers were wrapping everything else up. It was a much-needed rebound for a defense that struggled in Minneapolis the week before.
The Rams were coming off a bye week and two consecutive losses. The chatter all week was about Sean McVay having plenty of time to get things right with the offense as they welcomed OBJ into the system. But Beckham only had one catch for five yards at halftime. In a game where many (including the oddsmakers) expected LA to get right, it was Barry’s defense that showed that their recent struggles were an outlier. Now they’ll get some much-needed rest.
Green Bay has been thin at depth in many areas on defense. It’s incredibly sparse at edge rusher and cornerback. If nothing else, the bye week will give those players — and everyone on the defense — time to recharge their batteries for the final push. It could make this defense even more lethal.
The potential returns of Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander will be massive. This is a defense performing at a top-10 level already. And they’ve done it for most of the season without their two best players on that side of the ball. Don’t mistake the situation for what it’s not. This isn’t a group hanging on by a thread. It’s a defense that has been dominant at times and has thrived on getting pressure on the quarterback, causing chaos, and forcing turnovers. Even without Alexander and Smith, it’s a defense that has proven it can help bring the Lombardi Trophy home. If they get their All-Pro corner and All-Pro edge rusher back into the mix, thoughts and prayers go out to opposing offenses.
Barry’s plan against the Rams worked exceptionally well. Rushing four and letting Stafford step onto his own land mines along the way was a recipe for success. Sure, they gave up a couple of big plays, but the defense came up with more critical stops than the LA offense could keep up with.