GREEN BAY – The offense did just enough, but the defense was the story.
Playing without its top two cornerbacks in Sam Shields (concussion) and Damarious Randall (groin), the Packers’ defense not only held up but led the way in a 23-16 victory over the Giants on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
The Giants managed just 219 total yards and four third-down conversions in 13 tries. More important, the Packers kept them out of the end zone for the game’s first 57 minutes despite some tough field position, and Green Bay improved to 3-1 at the quarter pole of the 2016 season.
“It really starts with our young secondary,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Those young corners did a heck of a job. We moved some guys around and they did a very good job executing the game plan.
“As always, it starts up front.”
Green Bay’s league-leading run defense didn’t disappoint. Banged up in the offensive backfield, the Giants managed just 43 rushing yards on 15 attempts (2.9 avg.). As has been the case all season, the Packers were in the backfield getting tackles for loss on a handful of occasions. Green Bay has now allowed just 171 rushing yards through four games.
The Giants’ three-headed monster at receiver also was held in check by the cornerback trio of Quinten Rollins, LaDarius Gunter and Micah Hyde. Temperamental Odell Beckham Jr. had New York’s lone touchdown with 2:54 left to make it a one-score game but had just five catches (on 12 targets) for 56 yards overall. Victor Cruz was shut out, and Sterling Shepard had two grabs (on seven targets) for a measly 14 yards.
The Packers went with Hyde as the nickel corner and then brought in a third safety, undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice, for the dime with veteran safety Morgan Burnett often moving up near the line of scrimmage. The combinations limited the Giants’ big plays to a 27-yard reception by tight end Will Tye to set up a field goal in the first half.
“Give Dom (Capers) a lot of credit for a fantastic game plan, and the execution goes to the players,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But if you really want to focus on one group, it’s the D-line. The lack of rushing yards and then the pass rush … it’s fun to watch.”
Rodgers referred to Nick Perry as “dominant” and credited a number of teammates in the front seven for their work. Giants QB Eli Manning was sacked three times and held to just 199 yards on 18-of-35 passing for a 78.2 passer rating. That’s Manning’s lowest rating against Green Bay since 2010.
Moreover, the Giants had six drives that started at their own 39-yard line or better, and they managed just three field goals on those possessions. Rookie Kyler Fackrell’s sack-fumble on one of those drives at the end of the first half set up a field goal for a 17-6 halftime advantage.
“That was a big part of our success tonight,” McCarthy said. “Field position was a huge factor, and we put a lot of stress on our defense because of it.”
Green Bay’s offense looked like it might be headed for a big night after driving 75 yards in 16 plays and consuming 8:42 on the clock on an opening touchdown march. Jordy Nelson caught his fifth TD of the season for an early lead, and in the second quarter, Rodgers lofted a pretty 29-yard TD to Davante Adams down the right sideline.
But both the head coach and quarterback readily admitted the overall efficiency wasn’t there. A deflected red-zone interception after a botched screen pass took points off the board, and a second-quarter pick – Rodgers’ first two-INT game in nearly a calendar year (Oct. 11, 2015) – made it tough going for a while.
The Packers got moving again toward the end of the third quarter and into the fourth but bogged down twice in the red zone and had to settle for field goals.
“We have to play a lot better. We have to execute in the passing game as well as we are up front,” said Rodgers, echoing McCarthy’s sentiments regarding an exemplary night from the offensive line in paving the way for 147 rushing yards and no sacks in 45 pass attempts.
“We’d like to score a few more points there to help out our defense when they’re playing so well.”
Eddie Lacy led the ground game with 81 yards on 11 carries before exiting in the second half with an ankle injury. On a night Rodgers and Nelson struggled to connect regularly, Randall Cobb (nine catches, 108 yards) and Adams (5-85) combined for nearly 200 receiving yards.
Rodgers finished with just a 65.0 passer rating (23-of-45, 259 yards, two TDs, two INTs) in executing what McCarthy termed a “new format” to the offense, in which the Packers change between rotating different personnel groups constantly on one series and going no-huddle on another.
“We kicked too many field goals and definitely left some big pass plays on the field,” McCarthy said. “We weren’t as crisp as we’d like on some plays. We need to improve from that.”
The offense killed the final 2:54 after the Giants pulled within seven points, as Rodgers found Cobb for 13 yards on third-and-10 just before the two-minute warning to seal the win.
“It’s been ugly at times, but we’ll take it,” Rodgers said. “It’s tough to win in this league.”