GREEN BAY – The Packers couldn’t have asked for a much better start for their run defense in 2016.
Thin on the defensive line due to Mike Pennel’s suspension and battling through a scorching-hot day, the Packers held Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon to just 39 yards on 21 carries, or 1.9 per rush, with a long of only seven.
As a team, Jacksonville had 48 yards on 26 carries (1.8 avg.) as the Packers were credited with six tackles for loss on running plays, from five different players, in Sunday’s 27-23 victory. It’s a good sign with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson on deck.
“I thought our guys did a good job in terms of attacking the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “We had penetration and were able to make more minus plays. That had a big impact on the down-and-distance situations. I like the way we played on first down, I like the way we played on third down, but we can certainly do a better job on fourth down.
“If we can play the run like we played (Sunday), it normally increases your pressure (on the QB).”
The Packers stopped the Jaguars on 11 of 15 third downs overall, but Jacksonville’s repeated fourth-down conversions in the fourth quarter kept them alive. One was by the nose of the football. Another was due to a defensive penalty on fourth-and-14.
Capers’ other area for improvement is big-play production. The Jaguars led the league last season in gains of 20-plus yards, and the Packers surrendered six, all through the air. The first five came on drives that resulted in scores. The last one was on the final drive when the Packers finally stopped a fourth down.
“When you look at the points, if we don’t give up big plays, we don’t normally give up any points,” Capers said. “They got their points off of big plays.”
The Packers broke up two potential big plays down the stretch. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix laid a hit on receiver Allen Robinson on a deep pass over the middle that knocked the ball loose, and the Jaguars eventually settled for a field goal.
On the final drive, cornerback Quinten Rollins was one-on-one with Robinson in the back of the end zone and expertly deflected a jump ball.
The clutch play by Rollins concluded an up-and-down day that saw him get an early deflection to produce an interception before later surrendering two long passes down the sideline, the second for a TD, in a span of four plays.
“When you’re playing out there on an island, you’re going to lose some,” Capers said. “But I like the way he battled back.”
Rollins could take on an even bigger role in the coming weeks, depending on the severity of fellow corner Sam Shields’ concussion. Head Coach Mike McCarthy confirmed that Shields is in the concussion protocol, and he missed four games (three regular season, one playoff) late last season when he had his last one.
“We’re definitely aware of his history and that will factor in how we move forward,” said McCarthy, who also expressed the utmost confidence in Rollins, saying, “He’s a fine young player.”
The Packers’ depth and versatility in the defensive backfield has already paid dividends and could be needed moving forward. Both corner LaDarius Gunter and safety Kentrell Brice saw playing time in key spots on Sunday.
The biggest spot, of course, was the fourth-and-1 with 23 seconds left. While Micah Hyde and Damarious Randall were the two who made the play at the point of attack on receiver Allen Hurns, the pursuit from behind by teammates Morgan Burnett, Joe Thomas and Nick Perry to finish off the tackle reflected the style of defense McCarthy and Capers have been pushing to develop all year.
“He easily could have fallen forward for a first down,” Capers said. “They were able to get out there and knock the play back.”