You get what you emphasize.
And coach Mike McCarthy’s emphasis got the Green Bay Packers a Week 1 victory at Jacksonville.
“Our A-No. 1 emphasis as a football team is to improve in the area of pursuit and finish,” McCarthy said on Thursday.
The Packers’ pursuit finished the Jaguars.
It was fourth-and-1 from the Packers’ 14-yard line. Green Bay had just called its last timeout with 23 seconds to go while clinging to a 27-23 lead.
The Jaguars lined up with two receivers to the right — their two stars, Allen Robinson against Micah Hyde in the slot and Allen Hurns against Damarious Randall to his right. Quarterback Blake Bortles took the shotgun snap and, facing a seven-man pressure, immediately fired the ball to Hurns, who caught the ball at the 17. With Robinson blocking Hyde, that left Hurns one-on-one with Randall and needing to gain 4 yards to move the chains.
Randall defended it perfectly. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt had said all summer than Randall is one of his best tacklers, and Randall was just that. Randall grabbed Hurns by the thighs at the 15 and hung on for dear life. Hyde defeated the powerful Robinson’s block and put a shoulder into Hurns’ back just inside the 15.
“(Randall) did a great job coming up, forced it back inside and from there we both stopped him and the rest of the defense came over to assist us,” Hyde said. “It was just a great defensive play.”
Pursuit and finish.
Morgan Burnett was next on the scene, and he pushed Hurns back outside the 15. Then it was outside linebacker Nick Perry, who shoved Hurns past the 16. Next, it was inside linebacker Joe Thomas. When Bortles threw the ball, Thomas was engaged with the center. By the end of the play, he was there with Burnett, and they spun Hurns backward and to the turf at the 17. Datone Jones finished the job, and Clay Matthews was there for good measure.
Pursuit and finish.
For the record, the official stats give Randall a solo tackle for a loss of 1 yard. In reality, merely seven players were involved in the game-saving tackle. For his efforts, defensive tackle Letroy Guion carried Thomas off the field.
“It’s huge,” Matthews said. “Ultimately, that was the game right there. We talk about playing for 60 minutes, that’s exactly what we had to do. Thirteen seconds left on the clock, we had to come up with that or, unfortunately, it’s probably going to go their way. Really excited about it. We’ve really got great expectations about this defense this year, feel like we’ve got something real special, a bunch of key contributors at every position. So, yeah, huge stop and I think it’s only going to help us moving forward.”
It was a great ending to a strong debut for the defense.
For months, the defensive line — minus a retired B.J. Raji and a suspended Mike Pennel — looked like the big weakness on the team. Instead, the Jaguars gained 48 yards on 26 carries with a long run of just 7 yards. That 1.8-yard average marked only the fourth time in the past six-plus seasons that the Packers gave up less than 2.0 yards per carry. Making that more noteworthy — especially with Adrian Peterson up next — that comes from a bottom-of-the-barrel run defense not just last season but the previous six seasons.
How did they do it? Impressively, not by overworking Mike Daniels and Guion, the lone veterans up front. They played 60 percent and 56 percent of the snaps, respectively. It wasn’t the young guys. Christian Ringo (17 percent), Kenny Clark (12 percent) and Dean Lowry (10 percent) combined for just 28 snaps. The solution? Jones, of all people. Jones, who was moved to outside linebacker because he simply wasn’t good enough on the defensive line, multitasked his way to 56 percent playing time. In fact, his 40 defensive snaps were a career high.
The pass defense was good enough. While Bortles threw for 320 yards, Shields and, especially, Randall largely controlled their top threats.
Robinson caught six passes for 72 yards. That’s good work, considering Robinson led the NFL with a 17.5-yard average last season and it took him 15 targets to get to that yardage figure. One of those targets came on the Jaguars’ next-to-last drive, with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix putting a jarring hit on Robinson to break up a pass at the 5 to help hold the Jaguars to a long field goal.
Hurns, their other prolific 1,000-yard receiver from last year, caught four passes for 75 yards. The damage came from the tight ends, with Julius Thomas catching five for 64 yards and a 22-yard touchdown over Quinten Rollins and Marcedes Lewis turning a screen into a gain of 37 by breaking Rollins’ tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Those plays led to Rollins getting benched. But when Shields exited late with a concussion, Rollins redeemed himself with a leaping deflection of a pass to Robinson in the end zone that helped save the game.
“It starts us off right,” Julius Peppers said. “We’re going to build off it and it was a great start to the season.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.