Dan Powers/USA TODAY

Sack-Master Peppers and Sack-Rookie Lowry Spark Packers’ Defense

Veteran Julius Peppers and rookie Dean Lowry made a difference as the Packers turned in their second consecutive strong performance on defense.

Just 13 points.

For the second week in a row, the Green Bay Packers defense did its share of bending but not breaking while allowing the opponent a paltry 13 points and chalking up a victory. In today’s bloated-stats, high-scoring, pass-happy NFL, that’s quite an accomplishment.

“Defensively, point total, keeping them down to 13 points, that’s exactly what you’re looking for,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Last Monday night in Philadelphia, Green Bay held Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense in check while Davante Adams and the Packers’ offense rang up 27 points. Sunday, on a classic cold, snowy afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Packers’ defense once again showed up to make life difficult for Brock Osweiler and the Houston Texans.

Osweiler’s numbers on the final stats sheet don’t look all that bad as he completed 22 of 35 passes for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  What those stats don’t show is that the Packers made passing a real chore for him most of the afternoon. That second touchdown didn’t occur until there were less than 2 minutes left in the game with Green Bay ahead 21-7.  Houston kicker Nick Novak missed the extra point and failed on the ensuing onside kick attempt to seal the Texans’ fate.

“I feel like we played well today,” Packers defensive end/linebacker Datone Jones. “We rallied and got off the field when we needed to get off. The No. 1 thing we did today was we had fun. Whenever you see all the guys flying around and making big hits, high-fiving each other, we were having a good time. We’ve got to keep that surge going, keep having fun, keep getting off the field and making plays.”

Two key players who clearly were having fun on this day represented opposite ends of the age spectrum, and they did some key damage to thwart a Texans drive right before the end of the first half.

Following Aaron Rodgers’ 9-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, Osweiler went to work with just less than 8 minutes left in the half. He moved his team to Houston’s 45 but go no further when rookie defensive end Dean Lowry barreled into the backfield and sacked Osweiler for an 8-yard loss.  It was Lowry’s first career sack and the Texans were forced to punt.

“It was a special moment,” beamed a smiling Lowry at his locker. “My first reaction was to celebrate but I didn’t know what to do, so I did a fist pump with my teammates. I felt really good about the play and it gave us some momentum to end the first half.”

Lowry also batted down one pass and hurried another throw to spoil what could have been a touchdown. As happy as Lowry was for his big day, his teammates were even happier for him.

“I was really excited to see Dean get the quarterback for the first time,” said Jones. “I can remember my first sack when I was a rookie and it took about nine weeks. But just to see him get his first sack, I was so excited for him.”

“From the get-go, Dean had some pretty good plays in a limited role,” added linebacker Clay Matthews. “He’s progressed as a rookie player and it’s good to see because we’re going to need him moving forward, especially as a rookie contributing more hopefully towards this playoff run.”  

On the other end of the rainbow, there was seemingly ageless Julius Peppers. With the clock winding down toward halftime, Osweiler had his team driving to the Houston 41 by completing a 13-yard pass to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. As Osweiler dropped back to pass on the next play, he never saw Peppers bearing down on him, sacking him for a 10-yard loss.  It was career sack No. 142.5 for Peppers, which moved him past Michael Strahan into fifth place on the NFL’s all-time sacks list.

“Julius has just been a model of consistency with what he’s been able to do in Year 15 or whatever it is now,” said Matthews. “You just lose track, but I’ve always kept track as far as where he is statistically, and it’s good to see him just continue to show up week in and week out, year in and year out. I’m happy to see him kind of take over that big spot and pass Hall of Famers left and right.”

As Lowry was savoring the first sack of his career, he had a front-row seat to see a true sack master, Peppers, do his thing.

“Yeah, I watched him all the time in practice and in the meetings to see how he carries himself,” said Lowry. “And then I watched him go out there today and get a sack, and for me to get a sack as well, it was a pretty cool half out there.”

With a 6-6 record, the playoffs have begun for the Packers. There is little margin of error if the Packers intend on getting into the postseason, let alone doing any serious damage. That means the defense is going to have to continue to step up at critical junctures in the coming games, especially by playing through their rash of injuries. Matthews is playing through an injured shoulder. Inside linebacker Jake Ryan, who missed most of the last three games with an ankle injury, briefly left after aggravating the injury. Outside linebacker Nick Perry injured his left hand in the first quarter and returned in the third quarter wearing a club-cast. Cornerback Damarious Randall is taking limited snaps as he returns from groin surgery.

“Well, I think it talks a lot about where we are as a team,” added Matthews. “The injuries are an unfortunate part of it, but we’ve got guys coming back off injury and battling through it. Every game now is a must-win game for us. We were fortunate to get this win, especially in such weather conditions, but now it’s on to Seattle.”

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will visit Lambeau Field next Sunday afternoon.  Green Bay’s defenders plan to be up for the challenge.




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