Energized Packers' defense just missing knockout blow

Fast start wasn’t enough to contain Rams’ high-octane offense


LOS ANGELES – The Packers' defense knew what it was up against playing one of the NFL's most potent offensive attacks in the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon.

With an up-tempo scheme designed around All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, the Rams entered the game averaging more than 33 points per game and ranking inside the top five in practically every major statistical category.

The counterpunch Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine developed was a game plan based on containing Gurley, not biting on Los Angeles' use of misdirection and pressuring third-year quarterback Jared Goff into mistakes.

In the end, it was almost enough to pull off the upset.

Operating almost exclusively out of a hybrid package featuring six defensive backs, the Packers held the Rams in check during a narrow 29-27 defeat in front of 75,822 inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Green Bay's defense has been seeking a faster start for a number of weeks. When asked about what the difference was Sunday, most defenders surveyed afterwards equated it to energy.

Goff was hit eight times with five sacks, including a pair from defensive tackle Kenny Clark, while rookie Jaire Alexander had five pass deflections in his return to the nickel cornerback post after missing two games due to a groin injury.

"I felt like we just showed up," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "Obviously, they've had the success they've had with a lot of smoke and mirrors, good play-calling, speed and misdirection. We came out and made it kind of dirty and grimy, really got after them, hit the quarterback."

The Packers limited Gurley, the NFL's leading rusher, to only 34 yards on 13 first-half carries despite playing with safety Jermaine Whitehead in the box next to inside linebacker Blake Martinez.

Flexible enough to use on any down, the package aided the defense in getting off to arguably its best start of the season with Goff getting sacked three times in the Rams' first four third-down situations.

Even when the Rams turned to some trickery when punter Johnny Hekker completed a pass to Sam Shields on a fake punt in the second quarter, the Packers' defense responded with another three-and-out to force a fifth consecutive punt.

In forcing the Rams into several third-and-long situations, Pettine was clear to use a variety of blitz packages to assist as defensive tackle Kenny Clark (two), and linebackers Kyler Fackrell, Blake Martinez and Matthews all registered sacks.

"In my mind, I swear if we play games like that, we're going to win a lot of games," Clark said. "I don't know how else to explain it. We have to come out there like that every game because I feel like we can keep teams on their heels."

The Green Bay Packers traveled to LA Memorial Coliseum to take on the Los Angeles Rams in a Week 8 NFC matchup.

Los Angeles began to hit its stride at the end of the half after a safety and a pair of replay-reversed catches to Brandin Cooks (25 yards) and Gurley (32 yards) on back-to-back plays set up a 1-yard touchdown pass to Rams receiver Josh Reynolds.

The Packers forced a three-and-out on Los Angeles' first series after halftime before Goff stitched together scoring drives on the Rams' next three possessions to pull ahead 23-20 entering the fourth quarter.

All told, six of Los Angeles' biggest plays came past the midway mark of the third quarter.

"We had them on the ropes, but when you're fighting Mike Tyson, you have to knock him out," defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. "Don't give him any life. There were too many times we gave him life. We have to do a better job."

The defense still gave Green Bay a chance to pull out the win, holding the Rams to a pair of fourth-quarter field goals while Matthews' sack of Goff with 7 minutes, 35 seconds remaining gave the offense the ball back with the Packers leading 27-26.

However, a quick three-and-out and 25-yard punt gave the Rams the ball back at their own 40. The Packers nearly stopped Los Angeles there before Gurley's 23-yard gain on third-and-6 helped set up Greg Zuerlein's go-ahead 34-yard field goal with 2:09 left, a result that held up after a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.

The Packers' defense will have to press the reset button quickly, as it's set to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots next Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

"It definitely hurts to know how dominant we were in the first half and the things we did throughout the game to give us a chance and just let it slip away," Martinez said.

"We all knew what people were saying. Nobody gave us a chance to win this game. Nobody gave us a chance to stop their offense and we held them to six points in the first half. To be able to do that, it shows how good we can be."

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