GREEN BAY – All summer long, the conversation centered on what form the Packers’ evolving defense might take once all the pieces fell into place.
In Sunday’s regular-season opener against Seattle, coordinator Dom Capers’ group gave everyone a small sampling of what Green Bay hopes is a sign of things to come this season.
Mike Daniels, Nick Perry and the rest of the defense set the tone from the first whistle to the last in allowing only 225 total yards of offense in a dominating 17-9 win over the Seahawks in front of 78,381 at Lambeau Field.
Daniels and Perry – whom the Packers signed to contract extensions over the past two years – led the way for the pass rush in combining for 10 tackles, three sacks and six hits on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who was limited to only 158 yards on 14-of-27 passing.
“I think we did a good job,” Perry said. “Just being able to handle all aspects of the game whether it was run, play-action pass. I think we did some great things out there, and as a unit, we started really strong and we finished strong.”
The defense immediately made its presence felt in forcing Seattle into three-and-outs on four of its first five offensive possessions. During that span, the Seahawks managed a mere 25 total yards.
With the Packers trailing 3-0 at halftime, Daniels and Perry again set the tone in the third quarter in combining on a 10-yard sack of Wilson during the Seahawks’ first offensive play of the second half.
Two plays later, Daniels not only sacked Wilson for another 10-yard loss, but also stripped him of the ball with second-year linebacker Kyler Fackrell falling on top of the fumble to give the offense the ball at the Seattle 6-yard line.
On the next play, running back Ty Montgomery ran the ball in to put the Packers on the board for the first time. It proved to be the break the Packers needed to get their offense rolling.
Daniels was humble about his performance in the locker room after the game, chalking up most of his accomplishments to aggressive play and overall effort.
“Mike D had a hell of a game,” center Corey Linsley said. “Every day, the biggest thing he brings is attitude and that’s tough. That’s probably the toughest element of his game. Everybody lauds him for his bull rush, but that bull rush comes from his attitude.”
The Packers deployed their “Nitro” nickel package for most of the game, consisting of safety Morgan Burnett playing the role of a hybrid linebacker next to Blake Martinez.
As much as it helps to defend against perimeter weapons such as Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, everyone on defense knows the package’s effectiveness hinges on its ability to stop the run despite having smaller personnel on the field.
Seattle’s run game, which was without starting running back Thomas Rawls, managed only 50 yards on 16 non-quarterback attempts. More than half of that production came on one Chris Carson 30-yard run in the third quarter.
“When you look at it on paper, that’s a matchup that doesn’t favor the defense because of the guys you have out there,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Anytime you can play the run when you have a smaller group of guys with more speed, I think that bodes well for the future because then they go to the pass game, you can keep that out there.”
The defense’s ability to get off the field on third downs (9-of-12 for 75 percent) matched with the offense’s success in the same situation (9-of-16 for 56 percent) resulted in the Packers nearly doubling Seattle’s time of possession (39:13-20:47).
The three times the Seahawks managed to get into Green Bay territory, the Packers’ defense forced them to settle for field goals within 25 yards of the end zone.
While Daniels’ disruptiveness inside stood out in the victory, the two-time Pro Bowl alternate was quick to credit the Packers’ secondary for giving the pass rush added time to get after Wilson.
“A lot of our pressures were coverage pressures,” Daniels said. “You could attribute it to how well they were covering those guys on the back end. I said this during the offseason, our defensive backs are working. All the criticism they got, they took it personal. The way they played today, you can see they’re making sure nobody can talk that way again.”
The Packers will face another stiff test next week when Green Bay travels to Atlanta to face the Falcons in their home opener at brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Sunday’s performance against the Seahawks was a good start, but it’s ultimately only one regular-season game out of 16.
“We created the standard and now it’s time to raise the bar,” Perry said. “Moving forward, as a unit, we want to be the best out there on the field and we’re going to make sure we improve, daily and weekly.”
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