Energized Packers’ defense just missing knockout blow

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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.