GREEN BAY — No matter what curveball the Packers have been thrown this season, their defense has still found a way to make it all work.
That continued in Sunday night’s 23-16 win over the New York Giants when Green Bay held the NFL’s sixth-ranked offense to a little more than 200 total yards and only three field goals through the first 57 minutes, 6 seconds of regulation.
The Packers accomplished that feat without starting cornerbacks Sam Shields (concussion) and Damarious Randall (groin), who sat out despite initially being listed as questionable going into Sunday’s contest.
In their stead, the Packers turned to Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter and Micah Hyde to hold the Giant’s three-headed receiving monster of Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz in check.
In the end, none of the three receivers had a catch of more than 16 yards. Beckham caught only five of his 12 targets, while Cruz finished without a reception.
“It was a big challenge for us coming in, especially with the guys who weren’t able to play in this game,” said Hyde, who finished with five tackles, a sack and a pass deflection. “We just took it upon ourselves to go out and compete. … It was a good challenge on the back end and we accepted the challenge.”
The two staples of the Packers’ defense through the first month of the season – stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback – were again present against the Giants.
Green Bay’s top-ranked run defense held New York to only 15 carries for 43 yards. Through four games, the Packers have conceded 171 yards on 86 attempts (2.0 yards per carry).
Green Bay and Minnesota remain the only teams in the NFL that haven’t allowed a gain of more than 20 yards on the ground this season.
In keeping the Giants one-dimensional, the Packers’ pass rush sacked quarterback Eli Manning three times with Nick Perry (4½ sacks), Clay Matthews (three sacks) and rookie Kyler Fackrell (two sacks) adding to their season totals.
The Packers’ fourth sack came courtesy of Hyde stopping Beckham for a 6-yard loss on an attempted receiver pass near the end of the third quarter.
Still, Fackrell’s strip-sack of Manning near the end of the first half might have been the most critical. It gave Green Bay the ball back at the New York 31 and set up an eventual Mason Crosby 44-yard field goal that gave Green Bay a 17-6 lead going into halftime.
“It was actually Jayrone Elliott who forced him out of the pocket,” Fackrell said. “He made a nice inside move that forced him to roll out and I was right there. Fortunately, everybody was live to the ball and we got it back.”
As stout as the defense had been up front, the one area of concern going into Sunday’s game was the 29th-ranked pass defense that was without Shields and Randall.
Yet, the Packers rallied around Rollins, Gunter and Hyde with safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix covering them over the top.
Other than the Giants’ final offensive series, the Packers succeeded in keeping New York’s no-huddle offense out of the end zone.
Beckham finished with five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
“Anytime you can keep their playmakers limited, that’s always going to help your cause to win,” Rollins said. “We just wanted to come in and limit their abilities. We knew they’d make some catches, but limited their playmaking abilities with the run after the catch and I felt like we did a good job of that tonight.”
Week after week, the Packers’ defense continues to prove it has what it takes to sustain its early success. While Sunday’s performance helped Green Bay break into the top 10 in total yards, nobody wants to hear about it.
Not yet, at least.
“We just want to continue to get better. We want to continue to fly under the radar,” linebacker Julius Peppers said. “We don’t want anybody to talk about us and tell us how good we are. We’re just continuing to grind and finding a way to win games.”
Breaking through: The Giants’ defensive front found out early that Eddie Lacy wasn’t going down easy on Sunday night.
The Packers’ running back rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries to help set the tone for the offense early on.
All but four yards of his production came in the first half after Lacy sustained an ankle injury on his second carry of the third quarter and didn’t return.
Before he exited, Lacy fashioned his longest carry of the season for 31 yards in the second quarter. He broke several would-be tacklers before finally being pushed out of bounds.
“That’s one thing ‘EB’ harps on a lot is breaking tackles and extending the play. I think I did that tonight,” said Lacy of offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, a former running back.
“I think we had a great day on the ground. The offensive line did a great job, tight ends, wideouts, they blocked to the whistle and we were able to break tackles.”
The Packers finished with 32 carries for 147 yards with veteran James Starks rushing for 33 yards on 12 carries in Lacy’s absence.
Perhaps the most satisfactory run came in the fourth quarter when the offense pushed fullback Aaron Ripkowski for a 13-yard gain on another otherwise ordinary third-and-1 dive.
“That’s always one of our main focal points is finishing the play, covering the ball,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “I’m excited to watch that play on film. That’s one of those that’s probably going to be on a highlight film.”
Lacy, who has played through ankle injuries in the past, was able to walk on the ankle after the game.
“I’m shooting for none,” said Lacy when asked whether he expects to miss any games. “I’m a pretty tough person. I should be all right.”
Keeping it clean: The Packers’ offensive line kept the pocket clean for Rodgers, who went the entire game without a sack for the first time since last year’s opener in Chicago.
It was a testament to the Packers’ offensive line considering Rodgers threw a season-high 45 passes and the Giants featured two marquee rushers in Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul.
“It’s good always when you get in a groove,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “It always makes it easier on the offense and the ability to get after them in the run game and also in the pass game. You know, be sturdy and keep Aaron clean all day, that’s huge.”