The Packers defense took the red zone monkey off their back Sunday, keeping the Washington Football Team out of the end zone in four red zone trips in the second half, securing the Packers 14 point win. After not being able to keep 6 straight teams out of the end zone on red zone drives prior to Sunday, the defense had three goal line stands that included an interception in the end zone, two four down stops that included one boneheaded play by rookie Washington QB Taylor Heinicke, and a good pass defensed by Adrian Amos that was as close to pass interference as a pass breakup could get without a flag.
The Packers defense’s best play may have been the second half stops on 4th down. Rashawn Gary took the headlines away from the vaunted Washington defensive front, which was causing the Packers patchwork o-line fits in the first half. On the first drive of the second half, Gary beat his man and knocked the ball out of Heinicke’s hand just before he delivered the pass. The ball floated into defensive end Kyle Lowe’s hands for the biggest turnover of the game. The Packer offense took over at the Washington 27 and quickly scored a touchdown on a perfect pass from Rodgers to Big Bob Tonyan. Tonyan had his best game of the season, tallying four catches for 63 yards and his second TD pass of the year.
Tonyan was joined by Allen Lazard and Mercedes Lewis as the breakout players of the game. Lazard caught 5 passes, including a nice adjustment on a back shoulder fade pass for his lone touchdown. Lewis had three catches for 31 yards. While the Washington team focused on Davante Adams, he was still able to lead the team with six catches for 76 yards and the Packers first touchdown.
The Packers defense was taking a beating for their inability to stop opponents in the red zone prior to Sunday. In the second half of Sunday’s game they had four red zone stops that resulted in three total points and a turnover. Yes, they were helped by Heinicke’s poor decision on third and goal when he tried to slide into the end zone. But, Heinicke, who wears jersey number four because he grew up a Brett Favre fan, made some outstanding plays, exposing the Packers corners early in the game and using his feet to run for 95 yards. His one interception was, arguably, his only poor decision of the game. But the constant pressure, including two sacks by Gary and two split between Lowry and Keke, kept him under pressure.
The Packers have to feel good about their record at 6-1. That does not mean they do not have work to do to be a championship contender. Their offensive line was exposed on Sunday. The Packers lined up with one player playing in their starting position as planned at the start of the season. Billy Turner, the only starter in his regular position, struggled against Chase Young. The interior of the line, Runyan, Patrick and Newman, all struggled against Washington’s Jonathon Allen and Montez Sweat. The Packers were held to only 52 yards rushing. Special teams had a blocked field goal that easily could have turned into a Washington score and game changing play. While the Packers won handily on the scoreboard, they dodged bullet after bullet in this game. The Packers have a five game stretch that includes Arizona, Kansas City, Minnesota, the Los Angeles Rams and the Seahawks. The faster Bakhtiari can return the better. If Jaire Alexander and The Smith Brothers could also heal, the Packers may be in business.
While Rodgers faced lots of pressure, his quick releases and scrambling kept the damage to three sacks. His first quarter, fourth down pass back across the field after scrambling to his right was a dangerous, beautifully executed throw. For a team held to under 60 yards rushing, they showed they have a multitude of weapons that can expose any defensive weakness. Next week, let’s hope the Packers can continue their new streak of nine straight series of keeping the opponent out of the end zone.