By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Every Packers’ fan knows Aaron Rodgers and the offense are the keys to reaching the playoffs.
Green Bay survives bump-and-grind KO
of Seattle a promising start for defense
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They’ve shown the way for eight straight post-seasons.
On Sunday, Packers’ fans finally got a taste of what it’s like to have a defense that can carry the team, too.
Led by Mike Daniels, Nick Perry and a revamped secondary, the Packers held Seattle to just three field goals en route to a promising 17-9 victory in the season opener at Lambeau Field.
It was promising because the defense came up big.
While the Packers’ run game left lots of room for improvement, their run defense was tougher than a $2 steak.
The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson was left to do all the heavy lifting after Eddie Lacy, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise were thwarted at every turn.
That left Wilson’s right arm to save the day.
It didn’t happen.
Wilson was just 14 of 27 for 158 yards while yielding a strip sack by Daniels to put the Packers’ offense in point-blank position at Seattle’s 6-yard line.
One play later Ty Montgomery plowed into the end zone.
It was the Packers’ first touchdown of the season, and it provided a third quarter lead that held up.
Meantime, Rodgers endured a difficult scoreless first half before rising up in the second half.
Rodgers completed 28 of 42 passes for 311 yards. He also hit on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson when Seattle’s defense offered up a “free play” with 12 men on the field.
Even Rodgers’ mistakes turned out OK.
He threw his first interception in a career-high 251 passes without one. It appeared to be a “pick six” but the touchdown was called back because of a Seattle penalty on the play. Starting Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane was ejected on the play for “throwing a punch” – in reality he shoved his forearm into Randall Cobb’s throat while Cobb was on his back.
Technically, it isn’t a “punch” but it definitely merits ejection. It was as if the NFL was telling the players: We’re not going to allow any off-the-ball shenanigans this season.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll didn’t like it, but my guess is that he and his players got the message.
Several key questions were answered in victory:
** No. 1 – Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit is vastly improved from a year ago. Clay Matthews and Perry brought juice while rushing off the edge, while Daniels and second-year pro Kenny Clark were active up and down the line.
Clark’s push, coupled with right end Dean Lowry’s presence, allowed Daniels to have one-on-one opportunities and he delivered with a disruptive performance.
** No. 2 – The Packers’ defensive secondary is loaded with strong, fast playmakers who give Capers a lot of possibilities.
Rookie Kevin King, along with Quinten Rollins, Damarious Randall and others made plays in the secondary.
Fellow rookie Josh Jones, who took turns roaming the middle of the field with Morgan Burnett, also was active.
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much better the defense is this season, but the improvement is undeniable.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Packers’ defense performs in Sunday night’s matchup against the Falcons in Atlanta’s brand-spanking new stadium.
Stopping Wilson and the Seahawks’ run game is one thing. Contending with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co. is quite another.
The Falcons appeared less than impressive in a 23-17 win against Chicago at Soldier Field. I fully expect them to be at the top of their game on what’s sure to be a raucous evening in Atlanta.
** No. 3 – The Packers’ special teams units are much better than a year ago. Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis are capable in the return game, and punter Justin Vogel (No. 8) and kicker Mason Crosby are money.
** No. 4 – The Packers’ double-tight end package featuring Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks is just scratching the surface. They caused the Seahawks trouble in the red zone and in the run game, let alone on pass plays.
Bennett’s hands are a godsend and he’s already on the same page as his Pro Bowl quarterback. Kendricks provides skills and depth.
Finally, the Packers dominated on third down on both sides of the football. That is especially encouraging because the Packers won the one-on-one battles that they needed to in order to outlast the Seahawks.
I have a feeling this isn’t going to be the last the Packers and their fans see of the Seahawks this season.
Frankly, I’m already looking forward to a rematch, especially because it’s more likely to be right back at good ol’ Lambeau.
If it happens it would be the ninth straight post-season appearance for the Packers, and the first in a long time when it appears the defense won’t be along for the ride.