For a football player, that’s akin to calling an artist “color blind.” Or a musician “tone deaf.” Or a wine connoisseur enjoying a cup of Boone’s Farm.
These Packers are soft no more.
In beating the Detroit Lions 30-20 on Sunday at Lambeau Field to win the NFC North, the Packers beat their rivals at their own game. Detroit fancies itself as the bully of the block, with a bad-to-the-bone defense and a play-past-the-whistle mentality. The Lions certainly bullied the Packers in Week 3 at Ford Field.
On Sunday, the tables were turned.
“I thought our physicality was superior to our opponent,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
Offensively, the Packers ran the ball right at the heart of the Detroit defense. Defensively, the Packers continued their late-season dominance against the run. A physical offense. A physical defense. A potential MVP quarterback. That’s a winning recipe against any team and at any venue.
“Well, considering how we’ve been called soft (by outsiders) ever since I’ve been here, it’s pretty nice (to hear McCarthy’s words),” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. The Packers rushed for 152 yards against a defense that had allowed only 63.5 rushing yards per game, which put it on pace to be the sixth-best in NFL history.
“That’s our job,” guard T.J. Lang said. “That’s something we talk about is play style and just being physical. Get the job done in the run game and the passing game. That’s something that we take on as an identity. That’s just what we do. That’s our job.”
The Packers had 61 rushing yards after their first five offensive snaps. While the running game bogged down on a failed goal-line series, the tone had been set. The Packers were going to run the ball – no matter who the opponent – and they were going to run it well. Gone were the days when McCarthy would put the ball in his hands of Rodgers and hope No. 12 could be Superman. Instead, McCarthy thundered away with the running game. The Packers ran it 38 times; no team had run it at Detroit more than 27 times this season.
“It’s our goal week in and week out to go out and establish that physical mentality,” Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton said. “We did it early tonight and it’s one of the big reasons we were able to win the game.”
That physical mentality has been building with every week. Through four games, Lacy had rushed for only 161 yards and averaged just 3.04 yards per carry. In the last 12 games, he’s rushed for 978 yards and 5.07 yards per carry. With Rodgers suffering through a miserable game at Buffalo and laboring through injury against Tampa Bay and Detroit, Lacy turned in games of 97, 99 and 100 yards.
Gone – long gone – are the days when the Packers’ offensive line was seen as the team’s weak link. “We take pride in what we do,” Sitton said. “Any time your success is being noticed, you appreciate it. We always enjoy that. We’ve come together as a line and have one of the better lines in the league. We know what we’re capable of. If we can play like that, we can beat anybody.”
It’s no different on defense. At midseason, the Packers’ run defense was the worst in the league. On Sunday, the Lions rushed for 111 yards on 23 carries – a total padded by two scrambles for 28 yards by quarterback Matthew Stafford. In the last eight games, the Packers allowed 691 rushing yards (86.4 per game) or 3.6 yards per carry. Compare that to the first eight games, when Green Bay allowed 1,228 rushing yards (153.5 per game) or 4.78 per carry. The defensive line might not be big but it’s playing big. Clay Matthews and Sam Barrington have provided a much-needed attitude adjustment at inside linebacker. The middle of Green Bay’s defense, like Green Bay’s offensive line, has developed into a strength.
Added together, this looks like a team as equipped as any to beat Dallas (or whoever) in the divisional round and then knock off the defending champions at Seattle in a potential NFC title game.
“It’s nice to hear somebody put it out there, even if it’s within the locker room or one of the coaches or one of you guys,” Daniels said of McCarthy’s “physicality” comment. “That’s great. That’s great somebody saying we’re physically superior.”
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