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Stifling run defense has Packers pointed in right direction

Green Bay has allowed just 130 rushing yards on 57 carries these past two weeks


GREEN BAY – The Packers' run defense did it again.

A week after allowing only 62 rushing yards on 31 carries against Minnesota, Green Bay yielded just 68 yards on 26 attempts in a dominant 20-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

It's the first time the Packers have held their opponent to less than 70 rushing yards on 25-plus attempts in back-to-back games since a three-game streak in 1945.

Green Bay didn't go into the matchup with the Rams with history on its mind. Defensive line coach/run game coordinator Jerry Montgomery's no-nonsense message to his players was stopping Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman.

And the group succeeded, containing the veteran running backs to just 51 rushing yards on 22 carries.

"That just goes to all the work we put in during the week," rookie defensive lineman Colby Wooden said. "We truly are invested into this. That's the result we get when everybody is playing faster, everybody is trusting each other and playing physical. That's the outcome we get – we win."

Over the past two weeks, the Packers have allowed just 130 yards and one touchdown on 57 carries (2.3 yards per attempt) with Minnesota running back Alexander Mattison's 10-yard run representing the only double-digit rush Green Bay has yielded.

Amplified in Sunday's win over the Rams was the Packers playing most of the game without two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who exited in the first quarter with a shoulder injury.

On the sideline, Clark and Montgomery harped on the young defensive line for there to be "no drop-off" and there wasn't.

The Rams gained just 14 yards on seven carries in the second half thanks to T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt helping clear the way for inside linebackers De'Vondre Campbell and Isaiah McDuffie, who combined for 13 tackles (nine solo).

McDuffie, who added two key tackles for loss, was making a spot start in place of Quay Walker, who was unable to go due to a groin injury that popped up late in the practice week.

"I thought the energy from our defense throughout the course of the game was as good as we've seen it here," said Head Coach Matt LaFleur on Monday. "Isaiah McDuffie just triggering when he saw whatever he saw in front of him, but a lot of guys contributed, and I just think that's infectious when these guys play with that type of energy."

With Wyatt and Slaton dutifully fulfilling their obligations, Wooden and fellow rookie Karl Brooks filled out the rotation in Clark's absence during the second half.

Wooden registered a key fourth-and-2 stop of Freeman on the first play of the fourth quarter that preserved a 10-3 lead at the time, while Brooks got his hand on two Brett Rypien passes.

Clark, who said after the game he expects to be fine, proudly watched from the sideline as a young group of defensive linemen held its collective ground.

"I love seeing those guys ball and love seeing them make plays," said Clark after the game. "We all put a lot of pressure on them knowing how young they are but they're smart. They want to learn. They come in every day with the right mindset. They work. To see that payoff out on the field is huge."

It's a promising sign for a Green Bay run defense that allowed exactly 211 yards during losses to Atlanta in Week 2 and Detroit in Week 4.

The Packers still rank 23rd against the run (124.0 yards per game) but have jumped to 13th in per-carry average (3.97) after allowing just 2.28 the past two weeks, a tick behind Houston's league-best 2.27.

The Packers are looking to stay on that upward trend this Sunday against Pittsburgh. While the Steelers rank 25th in rushing offense (90.5 ypg), they are coming off a season-high 166 rushing yards in last Thursday's 20-16 win over Tennessee.

Green Bay feels up to the challenge of containing former first-round pick Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. A big reason for that is the Packers' burgeoning defensive linemen.

"Every rep they get, they're getting better," linebacker Rashan Gary said. "In this league, the more experience they get, the better it is for us. I'm just happy for them and they need to keep growing."