It is now seven games into the 2013 season, and perhaps we’ve been wrong about the Green Bay Packers all along.
The Packers routed the Minnesota Vikings 44-31 on national television Sunday night, and all of the talking points proved valid:
- Aaron Rodgers tossed only five incompletions and once again established himself as a Most Valuable Player candidate.
- The "no-name" wide receiving bunch of Jordy Nelson (NBC insisted no one ever heard of or thought of the six-year veteran quite often, no?), Jarrett Boykin, Myles White and Andrew Quarless came up big, averaging 11.9 yards per catch.
- Finally, the running game – the new identity of the offense – was strong again behind Eddie Lacy (94 yards) and with the return of James Starks (57 yards).
No, we weren’t wrong to talk about how important Rodgers’ play would be with so many injured receivers, or how important it was that these new pass catchers play well, or even that the offense as a whole has become a bit more balanced.
They all were legitimate aspects of the game to dissect. Yet those issues have sort of forced us to overlook one element to the team that has helped it win four straight games and rank only behind the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and one-loss Denver Broncos in the loss column: the defensive line.
Like their counterparts on offense, the big guy sup front tend to get overlooked anyway, especially in a 3-4 scheme where the linebackers are more highly paid and more often than not come up with the big plays.
The Packers don’t have a "name" pass rushing defensive lineman, like Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, Chicago’s Julius Peppers or Minnesota’s Jared Allen. No, they’ve just got a bunch of scrappy guys who have not-so-suddenly made the Packers the fourth best defense in the league against the run.
That’s right – fourth.
Through seven weeks, opponents are gaining just 83.6 yards per game on the ground and 3.7 yards per carry.
Yes, the young "no name linebackers" filling in for Clay Matthews, Brad Jones and Nick Perry have a lot to do with that as well, but the rotating troika of players up front are the key to this important element of the Packers’ 11th-ranked total defense.
The re-emergence of Johnny Jolly was a nice, feel-good story this offseason, but the 30-year-old has been a big contributor after missing three seasons. Veterans Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji have been disciplined and effective, and Mike Daniels has provided a bit of an edge, as well as a pass rush with four sacks.
We can look at the Packers schedule and note that they are 1-2 against teams with winning records, and their win over Detroit is somewhat tainted by the fact that all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson didn’t play – but what can’t be denied is that last year’s league MVP, Adrian Peterson, rushed for just 60 yards.
Willis McGahee rushed for 39. Ray Rice? Thirty-four yards. Reggie Bush ran for just 44. The combination of Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis put up just 79 yards.
You have to go back to week 2 when Washington’s Alfred Morris ran for 107 to find the last running back to actually matter, yardage wise, against the Packers.
And even in the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the troika of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and quarterback Colin Kaepernick were held to under 100 yards on 34 carries (I note the carries to show that while yes, Kapernick did shred the Packers secondary with his arm, it’s not like the 49ers didn’t attempt to run).
For weeks, we’ve wondered what the Packers identity was, and that usually means determining what they were offensively. It seems like the true nature of the team was up front – defensively – all along.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.