GREEN BAY – The Packers won the battle in the trenches on Sunday in Chicago, and that made for a rather gratifying film review on Monday.
“It starts up front,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said roughly 24 hours after Green Bay’s 23-16 victory over the Bears. “The play style of our football team, number one, is what you’re looking for.
“I thought our offensive and defensive lines really set the pace and captured the line of scrimmage in the game. Our run-blocking unit is where it started.”
The offensive line paved the way toward 160 rushing yards, tied for the team’s second-highest total on the season. Meanwhile, the defensive front held one of the league’s top rushing offenses to just 55 yards on the ground, a season-best effort.
The running game was a collective effort, as rookie back Jamaal Williams (20 carries, 67 yards) took over in the second half after Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) exited.
McCarthy said Jones has a multi-week injury, and Montgomery is still getting checked out but might have a chance to play. Rookie Devante Mays, who hasn’t been active on game day the last four contests, could move up to No. 2 if needed.
The offense will be without starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga for the rest of the season, but Justin McCray is filling in more than adequately. A natural interior lineman, McCray has played all across the front line in 2017 and drew a difficult assignment in Chicago, edge rusher Leonard Floyd.
The Bears’ 2016 first-round draft pick recorded just a half-sack against McCray, who held up against Floyd’s speed rushes and used his size advantage well in the run game.
“He’s a tough guy,” McCarthy said of McCray. “What he’s done this year, playing multiple positions, I can’t say enough about it. I love the way he plays. He had a huge matchup in that game, and he delivered.”
So did the run defense, led by Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark inside, with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry setting the edges. Second-year back Jordan Howard, on pace for a second straight 1,300-yard season coming in, managed just 54 yards, 39 of them on two of his 15 carries.
Stopping the run contributed to getting five sacks on rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, including a career-high three from Perry, the first three-sack game by a Green Bay rusher since A.J. Hawk at Baltimore in 2013.
“The biggest impact on the game yesterday is we were able to win first down probably the highest percentage since Week 1 this year,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “What it did was put them in a lot of second-and-long situations.”
Which led to third-and-long, as Capers noted that of the Bears’ 15 snaps on third or fourth down, 10 times they needed 10 or more yards to go. The Packers got the stop on 11 of the 15, a vast improvement on the money downs from a week ago.
The Packers also won the field-position battle, but they could have had an even more decided advantage if not for some costly miscues.
Trevor Davis caught a punt in the end zone and returned it to just the 8-yard line, while Joe Thomas and Lenzy Pipkins both had penalties that wiped out other returns by Davis.
Both McCarthy and special teams coordinator Ron Zook felt the illegal block called on Thomas, which negated an impressive 44-yard return, was borderline at best as Chicago’s coverage player slipped on the wet turf. They did not dispute the Pipkins penalty, also an illegal block in the back.
“We have to play hard and we can’t have foolish penalties,” Zook said of the problem plaguing Green Bay’s return game. “One of them last night was a foolish penalty. That’s a young guy, and we can’t have it.”
As for Davis’ poor decision to not take the touchback on the first punt of the game, he simply has to be more aware of where he is.
“You don’t do that. You don’t even mess with the ball back there,” Zook said. “He knows where he’s lined up, on the 12-yard line, and he knows he can go about 4 yards. He has to feel that, how far he’s going back.”
Justin Vogel’s bobble of a field-goal snap with about a minute left in the game also cost the Packers what would have been the game-clinching points. The rainy weather clearly factored, something the rookie punter will have to get accustomed to.
“The conditions weren’t perfect, but that’s what we’re going to have the rest of the season,” Zook said. “It isn’t going to get better, it’s going to get worse. It’s going to get colder.”
The other mistakes McCarthy focused on were mental ones on the offensive side. He said some of the new schematic wrinkles led to errors and missed assignments, which were corrected in film sessions.
For all the positives on offense – 7-of-16 on third down, five (what should have been six) scoring drives, three explosive plays of 35-plus yards, a strong fourth quarter – there was still plenty to clean up.
“We left a lot of offense on the field. Mentally we weren’t as sharp,” McCarthy said. “I thought our emotion and our drive and finish was what it needed to be, and we need to build off of that.
“But we can’t make that many mental mistakes and leave that much production on the field as we move forward.”
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