Tone-setter Mike Daniels has never been one to mince words. So, after the Green Bay Packers had another strong outing against the run, the defensive tackle summed up the early-season performance as really no one else could.
“We’re playing tough and guys are flying around to the ball and we’re just getting physical with the other team. It’s just that freaking simple,” said Daniels after the Packers’ 34-27 victory over the Detroit Lions in the home opener at Lambeau Field. “We have different guys now, too, different personalities. I’m an older guy so if I’m out there telling everybody to get mean and physical, young guys are listening and they’re doing it. It’s that simple.”
Through three games, it would be hard to argue with Daniels. If the Packers have anything to hang their hat on through a rocky 2-1 start this season, it is their defensive play along the line of scrimmage, where the Lions had little chance from the start - even against a depleted unit.
The Packers were without four starters and one key contributor yet turned the Lions’ offense one-dimensional. Starting running back Theo Riddick posted minus-11 yards on six carries in the first half as the Packers built a 31-10 halftime lead.
“Mike (Daniels) and Kenny (Clark) set the standard really of what you have to do to stop the run,” said rookie fourth-round pick Dean Lowry. “I think younger guys like me, and (Christian) Ringo, and Brian (Price) come in and it’s our job to keep the energy up and that’s what I think you saw today when we had those opportunities.”
Lowry, who posted a tackle for loss, stepped in to see his most extensive action playing the five-technique in the Packers’ defense. He was one of nine first-year defensive players - as coach Mike McCarthy pointed out after the game - that contributed on Sunday.
Rookie first-rounder Clark made his first career start for Letroy Guion (knee) at nose tackle. Julius Peppers, a 15-year veteran who has played as a part-time pass rusher through two games, stepped in for Clay Matthews (ankle, hamstring). Elephant Datone Jones (knee) was also out, giving Lowry more opportunities. And on the back end, Morgan Burnett (groin) missed his first game and Sam Shields (concussion) his second straight headed into next week’s bye.
At times in the secondary, the Packers had three young, undrafted players – LaDarius Gunter, Josh Hawkins and Kentrell Brice – on the field. Price, moved up from the practice squad this week, also saw his first NFL action at defensive tackle. Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell recorded his first career sack.
But it was fifth-year outside linebacker and former first-round pick Nick Perry who made the biggest impact.
Continuing his Pro Bowl-level play early in the season, Perry took advantage of Lions rookie tackle Taylor Decker. The Packers’ outside linebacker group always talks about “setting the edge” as a means to playing the run and Perry did that and more. With seven tackles (two for losses), two sacks, two quarterback hits and a pass deflection, was it the best game of his career?
“It could be,” said Perry, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks. “I’ll have to look at the film to see what I did out there but I had a great game and I’m just looking forward to having another one.”
The Packers continued their trend of playing behind the opposing line of scrimmage by posting nine tackles for loss. They needed it, too, on an afternoon when Matthew Stafford threw for 385 yards in a second-half comeback bid that fell one possession short.
After going backward with Riddick early, the Lions turned to rookie running back Dwayne Washington, who could only muster 38 yards on 10 carries. Not counting Stafford runs, the Lions totaled just 41 yards on 21 run attempts. Though the Packers held the Jaguars to 48 yards on 26 attempts in the stifling Jacksonville heat and then Adrian Peterson to just 19 yards on 12 carries at Minnesota, game No. 3 might have been just as impressive considering the lineup changes.
“We take pride in doing it,” said Daniels of stopping the run. “For a long time, the strength of our team was our defensive backs. The focus on stopping the run might have not been as strong but our defensive line room has a lot of pride. Not saying it wasn’t before but now you can see it. Look at the way our young (guys) played. These are guys, they’re just kind of out of college. This is their third NFL game – first for some of them – and look at the way they played today. Detroit’s got a talented front. They’ve invested a lot of money in their front. Look at the way our young guys played. We’ve got fourth-rounders, undrafted free agents, sixth-rounders out there. Kenny, he’s a rookie. Look how they played against a bunch of first- and (third-) rounders. It’s attitude and pride. Attitude and pride. It’s that simple.”
The Packers, No. 1 in the NFL against the run, are allowing just 1.8 yards per rushing attempt on 71 attempts this season. The 128 rushing yards allowed is the fewest by a Packers squad through three games since 1933 (when the NFL started compiling individual statistics).