Dozens of individual Green Bay players played significant roles in Monday’s magnificent victory. Here are a few miscellaneous things I noticed about this intrepid group of guys.
But first, let’s credit Matt LaFleur with doing such an understated job of coaching. Years down the road he’ll have the gravitas, and the players’ respect, to rule in a more iron-handed fashion, but for now he’s allowed the team’s veterans and leaders to share the spotlight and contribute their input. This team’s chemistry is terrific, which starts at the top – and that might be LaFleur’s greatest achievement to date in his first year at the top of the pyramid.
In particular, he’s continued to delegate the defensive chores to Mike Pettine and his defensive assistants. In mid-season, that was looking shaky, but points allowed in the last four games, 13, 15, 13, and 10, speaks for itself. When giving up fewer than 26 points, Green Bay is 13-0 on the year. Under Pettine, we have a defense.
The steady maturation of Allen Lazard has been critical to the upward change in this team’s trajectory. A win over Detroit would constitute a mini-run-the-table – a five game streak to close out the regular season. Without multiple receiving outlets, defenses had begun to suffocate Davante Adams.
Allen’s latest numbers, 5 catches for 45 yards, aren’t eye-popping, but he’s been getting open and moving the chains. That Rodgers threw his way nine times on Monday indicates Lazard has found a believer in the team’s QB. The big guy also seems to contribute key blocks, game after game.
In the course of the season, this defense has gone from a poor tackling to a sure-tackling group. Time after time, when Cousins threw out to the flat or to receivers behind the line of scrimmage Packers’ defenders closed rapidly and made textbook below-the-waist tackles. Alexander, King, and even Tramon Williams prevented yards after catch all game long.
Brian Bulaga personifies professionalism. He gave a locker room interview after the win that you ought to view (here). He’s a plain spoken guy, but you could sense he viewed vanquishing the Vikings as a highlight of his 10-year career. Brian summed things up nicely: “It was a game of wills. . .and I felt that in the third quarter we just started to kind of impose ours.”
Bulaga, as a rookie and a first-rounder in 2010, became the youngest player to ever start in a Super Bowl, at the age of 21 years and 322 days. Wouldn’t it be something to book-end his career with another Lombardi trophy at the end of this campaign? Not that I want him to retire. . .
Kenny Clark, another first-round draftee, in 2016, indicated how as a rookie on the last Packers team to win a division title, he didn’t understand how much effort was involved to achieve it. Now in his fourth year, he knows just how much hard work, going back to the OTAs, led to Monday’s result. Referring to his 4.5 sacks in the last three games, Kenny quipped: “It’s cool to call me Mr. December now.”
When Kevin King is healthy and on his game, this defense tends to shine. As evidenced by his five interceptions on the year (tied for fourth), he’s proven to be a game-changer. King is another high draft choice – the Packers’ made him the first pick of Round 2 in 2017.
Just an observation on Za’Darius Smith: he has a technique whereby he uses his hands and arms to jab at blockers, which keeps them from reaching his body or grasping on to him. In doing this, he is then able to get around one side or the other of his opponent. The usefulness of this method was on full display on Monday night.
Jamaal Williams continues to play mistake-free football – I can maybe recall one dropped pass on the year. His six carries for 33 yards, and two of two catches for 19 yards is fine production in such a limited capacity. As to his shoulder injury, one source expects he’ll have an MRI done before the likelihood of his availability for the Detroit game is known. If he can’t go, rookie Dexter Williams is the next man up.
Thanks, guys, for making it an extra-merry Christmas throughout Packerland this year.