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Packers' defensive play style has 'felt different' and 'looked different'

Intensity at another level over last 1½ games

S Darnell Savage
S Darnell Savage

GREEN BAY – From the start of the second half in Miami on Christmas until the Packers began substituting on defense in the fourth quarter vs. Minnesota on New Year's Day, Green Bay gave up just three points.

Sure, there were a total of three missed field goals over those 5½ quarters, but that doesn't take away from the intensity with which the Packers are playing on the defensive side of the ball, and the production they're getting as a result.

"I think we're playing with a lot more passion," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. "I think it's evident. It shows up all over the tape. Guys are excited. You can see it all last night, I really felt like from the first play all the way through the course of the game."

It's showing up against both the run and pass. LaFleur said the defenders up front simply "defeated blocks" when the Vikings tried to run the ball, while the communication on the back end to handle all the coverage combinations deployed against Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, T.J. Hockenson & Co. was on point as well.

What the Packers started by clamping down on the Dolphins' Raheem Mostert and taking away Jaylen Waddle's and Tyreek Hill's explosive plays in the second half in Miami carried over to the Minnesota game.

Those two opposing offenses have just 89 rushing yards on 25 designed runs (3.6 avg.) over the last game and a half, while at least three different pass rushers also have batted passes at the line of scrimmage. T.J. Slaton got a hand on two against the Vikings, one leading to an interception.

Speaking of turnovers, it's been a barrage. Beginning with Jarran Reed's forced fumble late in the first half at Miami, the Packers have eight takeaways (and 12 total during their four-game winning streak).

It's due to a combination of all the characteristics a coach looks for in a defense showing up simultaneously and working in concert.

"The physicality, the communication, all of it," LaFleur said. "Guys are playing off one another.

"Just the play style, it felt different. Quite frankly, I think it looked different, too."

Most important is the Packers keep it up with a playoff berth on the line Sunday night against the Lions. Detroit will come to Lambeau Field with the same 8-8 record Green Bay possesses, but with an impressive offense that ranks in the top quarter of the league in yards and points.

Former Packers running back Jamaal Williams has 15 rushing touchdowns this season, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has reached 100 catches and more than 1,100 yards, and QB Jared Goff's passer rating is now in the triple digits on the year (100.1), as he's thrown 15 TDs with no interceptions since his last pick – which came against Green Bay all the way back in Week 9.

LaFleur added he believes Detroit's offensive line ranks up there with Philadelphia's as one of the best in the league, so this is no time for the Packers' defense to hit a lull.

"We've got a great challenge in front of us," LaFleur said. "They've done it consistently throughout the course of the season."

The Packers were in a different place when they faced the Lions the first time this season, having lost four in a row, a streak Detroit pushed to five.

Now Green Bay has won four straight, having adopted a playoff mindset for the last month with its collective back against the wall. The hope is that's hardened them for the biggest game of the season, to date, and yet another must-win situation.

"Anytime people go through a little bit of adversity and you can come out the other side, I think it callouses you to some degree," LaFleur said. "I think it can bring everybody closer together. Because there was a point there when you're sitting at 4-8 when it can go a lot of different ways and … they chose to stick together, to trust one another."