MINNEAPOLIS — There have been plenty of signs early this season that the Packers’ defense has what it takes to live up to Mike McCarthy’s and Dom Capers’ lofty expectations.
However, there also have been a few too many big plays in the first two weeks of the season.
While the Packers shut down Adrian Peterson and the Vikings’ running game, they struggled to disrupt the momentum between QB Sam Bradford and receiver Stefon Diggs.
Bradford and Diggs were responsible for nearly two-thirds of the Vikings’ total offense in Sunday night’s 17-14 win at U.S. Bank Stadium in connecting for nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown.
A bulk of Diggs’ yards came off a 44-yard reception before halftime and a 46-yard catch in the third quarter that set up his own 25-yard touchdown reception to put Minnesota ahead 17-7.
The Packers’ defense had a chance to get the ball back to its offense in the final minute of the game, but second-year cornerback Damarious Randall was flagged for pass interference on Diggs on third-and-6.
“Sam was sitting back there making plays. That’s why he was the No. 1 overall pick a couple years ago,” Randall said. “They were on time and when the quarterback and receiver are on time like that, they’re very difficult to stop.”
The Packers’ secondary was stressed in playing without starting cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) and then losing safety Morgan Burnett late to a hamstring injury.
That led to the Packers deploying their three second-year cornerbacks – Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter – for nearly the entire game. Undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice also stepped in when Burnett went down late.
In containing the run, the Packers managed to hold the Vikings to 4-of-14 (29 percent) on third down, which enabled Green Bay to finish the game with more first downs (20-to-15).
Despite putting consistent pressure on Bradford (four sacks, 10 quarterback hits), the veteran maintained his composure to finish the game with a 121.2 passer rating.
“The big plays caught up to us,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had three tackles and a sack. “Defensively, I thought the front seven did a good job of getting after Bradford, harassing him, but unfortunately we gave up too many big plays and ultimately that was the difference in the game.”
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion exited in the second quarter with a knee injury, but the Packers weathered his loss to hold Minnesota to only 22 carries for 30 yards (1.4 yards per attempt).
Peterson, who was coming off 19 carries for 31 yards in Tennessee in Week 1, ran for 19 yards on 12 attempts before leaving in the second half with a knee injury.
As a team, the Packers finished with nine tackles for loss, including one each from inside linebackers Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas.
“It’s always disappointing to come out with a loss, but we held one of the greatest backs of all-time to 19 yards,” said defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who finished with four tackles, two quarterback hits and a sack.
“We just have to keep tightening up that run defense. We’re getting better every week. Letroy went down, but our young guys stepped up. Our linebackers were flying around to the football. If we continue to keep that under control, everything else will fall into place.”
The Packers’ defense will have to quickly erase Sunday’s loss with Detroit rolling into Green Bay next week for the Packers’ home-opener at Lambeau Field.
Burnett and several defenders feel the Packers’ defense isn’t too far away from where it wants to be. Nobody disagrees the big plays were too numerous, but there was a silver lining to be found in how the defense responded in holding Minnesota to only 17 points.
“That’s the character of our team,” Burnett said. “Through the course of the game, there are going to be ups and downs. You’re going to face a little adversity. I think we did a good job of responding, but we just kind of ran out of time.”
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