GREEN BAY – Statistically, the Packers' defense had one of its best performances of the season on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams.
Preston Smith and the pass rush sacked Baker Mayfield a season-high five times. Green Bay's defensive front and secondary combined to hold Los Angeles to a season-low 156 yards of total offense, the fewest by the Rams under head coach Sean McVay since 2017. Rasul Douglas got his third interception of the year…and almost a heart attack for his troubles.
But ultimately, the only thing on the defense's collective mind was the final result – a 24-12 victory over the Rams in front of 77,269 at Lambeau Field that kept the 6-8 Packers in playoff contention with three games left on the regular-season schedule.
"Everything," said Douglas when asked what clicked for the defense on Monday. "D-line was getting a lot of pressure. Quay (Walker) and (De'Vondre Campbell) were flying around. We just had a good plan."
A defense that's been showing signs of improvement since a 40-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles last month set the tone early when Smith sacked Mayfield for an 8-yard loss on the Rams' opening possession. Rookie Kingsley Enagbare followed suit on LA's next possession, sacking Mayfield on first down before nearly picking him off on third-and-11.
It was a harbinger of good things to come for the Packers' 2022 draft class. Walker had a strip sack in the second quarter and rookie first-round pick Devonte Wyatt combined with former Ram Justin Hollins on another sack in the fourth. Smith capped his night with a second sack on LA's next drive to give Green Bay's defense its most team sacks since also dropping Mayfield five times against the Cleveland Browns last Christmas.
The pressure helped Green Bay neutralize the Rams' banged-up offense, which moved away from its run game altogether in the second half. Mayfield converted a few third-and-long situations early, but a barrage of pressure gradually wore the Rams down. It didn't help Los Angeles also lost starting center Brian Allen to a calf injury two snaps into the game.
"Everybody was just doing their job at a high level," said Smith, who has now had six two-sack games in three-plus seasons in Green Bay. "A lot of guys were benefiting tonight. We had five sacks as a defense. We were all on one accord tonight. We were playing at a high level in every phase. I feel like we were doing that pretty well, and guys were just maximizing off of the opportunities."
There were a few hiccups for the defense, but nothing that zapped the momentum from the Packers. The closest call actually came on the Packers' lone defensive takeaway in the fourth quarter.
After Mayfield practically ran into the waiting arms of Wyatt and Hollins, the Rams surprisingly opted to go no-huddle. Mayfield threw an ill-advised pass over the middle intended for Ben Skowronek that was intercepted by Douglas, who also happened to pick off Mayfield twice last year on Christmas.
During his return, Douglas attempted to lateral to safeties Adrian Amos and Rudy Ford but lost his grip on the ball while doing so. Having watched Chandler Jones' game-winning fumble recovery on Sunday for the Raiders, Douglas feared he'd just made the same mistake as the ball fell to the ground. Luckily, Amos jumped on the loose ball to complete the takeaway.
See scenes from the Monday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field on Dec. 19, 2022.
"When I went to go throw it, it slipped but I was already in the process," Douglas said. "As I was going down, I underhanded it and then I seen it hit the ground. And I was like, 'This is about to be like the Raiders and Patriots.' I already know. … I told (Amos) I was glad he picked it up. Because if he didn't, it was over for me."
All in all, it was an encouraging performance for a defense that's had to adjust since losing Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes for the season in Detroit in Week 9. LA finished with just 13 first downs, 84 net yards passing and three plays of longer than 15 yards.
However, the challenge grows more daunting next week when the Packers travel to Miami to face Tua Tagovailoa and an explosive Dolphins offense centered on stud receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Still, the defense put together the complementary performance needed to win and keep pace with the New York Giants (8-5-1), Washington (7-6-1), Seattle (7-7) and Detroit (7-7) in the playoff hunt.
"That was step one," said Douglas, who finished with a team-high six tackles. "First today we came in and said let's dominate and let's get a win. Now, we're moving on to step two and that's Miami."