GREEN BAY – The Packers took a big step toward putting last year’s defensive struggles behind them on Sunday, and the comparisons will be inevitable as the NFC title game rematch with Atlanta arrives.
But Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s approach, as it always has been, is to not look back and treat a new season as a fresh start.
Sunday’s superb defensive effort against Seattle wasn’t about fixing what went wrong in 2016, it was about beginning something promising for 2017, with a desire to continue to climb.
“We’re building off of what happened yesterday,” McCarthy said on Monday as he and his coordinators reviewed the victory over the Seahawks.
“I get where the January questions come from, and some matchups will be similar (Sunday night in Atlanta), but what we accomplished yesterday, that’s who we are. That’s what we put on film, and from that, we need to improve.
“The exciting thing about today is you know how much growth you have as a football team.”
McCarthy noted health and experience as two key defensive factors, and he labeled the efforts of Nick Perry and Mike Daniels as “dominating performances,” as they each had 1½ sacks. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers added Perry looked just like the Perry of last season.
McCarthy credited safety Morgan Burnett for an active, productive game as well with the Packers playing their three-safety “Nitro” package the majority of the game.
It held up well against the run (50 rushing yards by running backs) and pressured the pocket (three sacks, one fumble) while limiting Seattle’s big plays.
The Seahawks posted back-to-back explosive gains in the final minute of the first half to kick a field goal, but that was one of two red-zone possessions the Packers ultimately won by keeping Seattle out of the end zone.
“There were five red (zone) snaps we won down there,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “If you want to be a good scoring defense, you have to play well in the red zone, and the guys rose to the occasion.”
The defense also shifted the momentum, which the offense seized upon. After turning Daniels’ sack-fumble into a one-play touchdown drive early in the third quarter, the offense took control, driving for a touchdown and a field goal, and then killing the final 6:17 off the clock.
“I thought our last four series told the whole story,” McCarthy said. “That’s the way you finish a game.”
The final clock-melting drive required four first downs, yet the Packers only needed to convert once on third down on the 12-play possession. The Seahawks only got one good shot at a stop.
“That’s the mindset, you want to close it out,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “Our defense played their tails off, and we didn’t want to put them in a position where they had to go back on the field.”
Running back Ty Montgomery handled his biggest workload as a pro, with 19 carries and four receptions for 93 total yards.
He fought for some tough yards on the ground, gained 12 on a screen on the long TD drive, and slipped free for 20 on a swing pass on the field-goal march.
“He ran the ball hard, broke tackles. He led the team with six broken tackles,” Bennett said of Montgomery. “He did a nice job being violent on the boundary, used the stiff arm, accelerated his feet on contact.”
More consistency from the offense as a whole will be Bennett’s focus, and the same can be said for special teams.
The Packers’ coverage teams allowed a 43-yard return by Tyler Lockett on the opening kickoff but clamped down after that.
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook also pointed out returner Trevor Davis had a couple of questionable decisions on whether or not to field certain punts, and rookie punter Justin Vogel’s solid debut featured his best ball – a 57-yarder – when he needed it most, coming out of his own end zone.
“I told him when he came off, ‘You’re no longer a rookie.’ The thing is, he cannot relax, as none of them can,” Zook said of his young players. “He’s got to get the consistency thing, and I’m proud of him that he’s continued to work on that and he knows the importance of it.”