GREEN BAY — The Packers always have known what Nick Perry is capable of when healthy.
Now, they’re finally getting a chance to see it.
The former first-round pick has channeled the first healthy offseason of his career into the best start of his five NFL seasons, stepping up Sunday for a defense without Clay Matthews and several key players.
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound linebacker proceeded to tie his previous career-highs for both tackles (seven) and sacks (two) with a pass deflection in a 34-27 win over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
“I’m off to a great start, but I’m humble about where I’m at and where I need to go,” Perry said. “Right now, the main focus is getting better, improving for the next week and playing my best ball yet.”
Despite Matthews sitting out with ankle and hamstring injuries, Perry said he didn’t feel any more pressure to fill the void of the six-time Pro Bowler.
Still, the Packers were able to get enough production from the rotation of Perry, Julius Peppers, Jayrone Elliott and rookie Kyler Fackrell to help subdue Detroit’s offense early.
Fackrell, a third-round pick out of Utah State, recorded his first sack of his career, while the Packers were able to tackle Detroit ball carriers nine times for a loss.
The trump card for the pass rush was Perry, who admits he’s enjoying himself again after a myriad of knee, wrist, foot, ankle and shoulder injuries slowed him during his first four pro seasons.
“I’ve always said if Nick can stay healthy, he was going to kick some tail and you can see it,” said defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who was in the same draft class with Perry in 2012. “He finally looks comfortable about that. I’m excited for him and I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to grow.”
Perry has had at least a half sack in each of the Packers’ first three regular-season games and now enters the bye week with 13 tackles and a team-high 3½ sacks.
While he still wishes the bye would’ve come a little later in the season, Perry understands how the week off could benefit a defense without Matthews, elephant rusher Datone Jones (knee), nose tackle Letroy Guion (knee), safety Morgan Burnett (groin) and cornerback Sam Shields (concussion).
When the team returns, Perry hopes to pick up where he left off.
“At the end of the day, I’m aggressive and I want to do everything I can for the team,” Perry said. “I think it showed today I could be a big asset to the team.”
Perry wasn’t the only player to step up for the Packers’ defense.
Stopping the run: The Packers continued to build off their early success stopping the run despite having only one player with more than two NFL starts available on the defensive line.
Mike Daniels led the way for a young collection of defensive linemen that held Detroit to only 50 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
Rookie defensive linemen Kenny Clark (four tackles) and Dean Lowry (two tackles, one for a loss) stepped up in place of Guion and Jones, who had been serving as the Packers’ base defensive end.
“I just feel more comfortable out there and trying to do my best at doing my job for this team,” said Clark, the Packers’ 2016 first-round pick. “I’ve gotten a lot of good snaps in.”
Former sixth-round pick Christian Ringo and recently promoted defensive tackle Brian Price also worked into the rotation on the defensive line.
Green Bay, which entered Sunday with the league’s stingiest run defense, didn’t allow a gain of more than nine yards. The Packers held Lions running back Theo Riddick in check early, restricting him to minus-11 yards on six first-half carries.
So it’s it safe to say the Packers’ run defense is legit?
“Yeah, especially doing it with a bunch of rookies out there and guys who haven’t had much game experience,” Daniels said. “That was a tough offensive line, too. They invest a lot of money up front. I think our guys did a really good job.”
The Packers’ linebackers remained active Sunday behind the inside trio of Jake Ryan (nine tackles, two for a loss), Blake Martinez (six tackles) and Joe Thomas (three tackles and a pass deflection).
Timely turnover: Damarious Randall responded to an up-and-down performance in Minnesota with a game-changing interception off Matthew Stafford in the second quarter.
Randall stole a ball away from tight end Eric Ebron and returned it 44 yards to give the Packers’ offense the ball at the Lions’ 25-yard line.
The Packers gave up 368 passing yards to Detroit – 73 of which came when Randall briefly exited with an illness near halftime – but the young cornerback’s turnover came at a critical time in the game.
“It was huge – ‘D’ is known for making big plays like that,” said Micah Hyde, who started at safety in place of Burnett. “That was huge at that particular time to get the offense the ball, and they were rolling.”
Fighting through: The Packers listed six key veterans on their injury report as either questionable or out on Friday.
Right guard T.J. Lang (hip) was the only one who was able to suit up on Sunday against the Lions.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to play today, but rested it throughout the week and felt pretty good,” said Lang afterward.
If the Packers weren’t shorthanded enough, tight end Jared Cook (ankle) and fullback Aaron Ripkowski (back) also left with injuries and didn’t return.
Along with Randall’s ailment, Martinez spent some time in the locker room to get stitches reinserted after reinjuring his nose that was busted open last week in Minnesota.
To make up for their absences, the Packers had to dig deep into their reserves on Sunday.
“‘D’ was fighting through some stuff,” Hyde said. “Blake was out there looking like a mummy with his face wrapped. We definitely dealt with some adversity, but you have to respect those guys for fighting through it.”
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