GREEN BAY – The Packers' defense has plenty clean up from its performance on Christmas against the Browns, but the unit hung its hat on a mountain of sacks and interceptions that proved crucial throughout the game.
As usual, there was more to some of those key stops than what made it into the statistics. Here's a sampling.
Play No. 1: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 15, first quarter, 1:31 left
Result: 9-yard sack by LB Rashan Gary
This is a rather unusual protection scheme by the Browns that fails, and the Packers get the first of their five sacks in the game. With Cleveland lining up both tight ends on the left side, DL Kenny Clark (97) decides to engage with RT Blake Hance (62), presumably to see if that creates a free run for Gary off the edge, or a one-on-one with the running back. Turns out, the Browns pull LG Michael Dunn (68) across the formation to pick up Gary, but it doesn't work. Clark beats Hance to get to QB Baker Mayfield first, and then Gary is barely slowed down by Dunn as he cleans up for the sack. Mayfield wants a facemask call on Clark, but either the officials didn't see it, or decide the contact was so quick as to be immaterial.
Play No. 2: Third-and-19 from the Green Bay 24, first quarter, :43 left
Result: INT by CB Chandon Sullivan
Two plays later, the Packers get the second of their four interceptions in the game. The only reason this is included is to simply ask the question, does Gary tip this ball as it comes out of Mayfield's hand? The ball obviously flutters its way over the intended receiver's head toward Sullivan, but it's not entirely clear whether Gary got a piece of it. Maybe, maybe not.
Play No. 3: First-and-10 from the Cleveland 40, second quarter, 2:00 left
Result: INT by CB Rasul Douglas
It's easy to see why Mayfield tried to make this throw. For a moment, both Douglas (29) and Sullivan are focused on the stop route by WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (11), and Douglas has his back to WR Jarvis Landry (80) streaking up the sideline. But as Landry puts up his hand to call for the ball, watch Douglas' footwork and body position. He peels back to get to Landry, barely breaking stride, which allows him to maintain his speed and depth in coverage. If he had turned his hips the other way, facing the line of scrimmage, he would have been restarting from a paused position and not carried deep enough. Mayfield's poor pass is underthrown and too far inside, allowing for a relatively easy pick.
Play No. 4: Third-and-5 from the Green Bay 8, third quarter, 1:54 left
Result: 11-yard sack by Gary
With the Packers up 24-12, this is a huge stop that forces a field goal to keep Green Bay ahead by two scores, and it's the definition of a team sack. The only defender who doesn't make an impact in the pass rush is Clark, who draws two blockers. That leaves everybody else up front with one-on-ones. LB Preston Smith (91) and Gary both win theirs, while DL Dean Lowry (94) pushes Dunn all the way back into Mayfield's lap as well, giving him no room to step up when the edge pressure bears down on him.
Play No. 5: Second-and-12 from the Green Bay 33, fourth quarter, 10:32 left
Result: 2-yard sack by Smith
This is the first of back-to-back sacks that push the Browns out of field-goal range and force a punt. Credit Clark with the biggest impact here, as he splits the double-team attempt by Dunn and C Nick Harris (53), putting Mayfield in escape mode almost before he can set his feet in the pocket. Smith sees Mayfield starting to scramble and immediately begins a downfield chase, getting him before he gets back to the line of scrimmage.
Play No. 6: Third-and-14 from the Green Bay 35, fourth quarter, 9:50 left
Result: 8-yard sack by Lowry
The follow-up sack is thanks to a classic stunt by Lowry and Smith. Lowry angles his rush to the outside to engage both Dunn and LT Joel Bitonio (75), trying to create a path for Smith to stunt inside and get to Mayfield. As Dunn shifts to try to pick up Smith, Bitonio has no leverage on Lowry, who gets ahold of Mayfield. Great two-man game there.
Bonus play 1: Two-point conversion attempt by Browns
Result: Incomplete pass
If there's one thing that can't be taught to a cornerback, it's speed. Specifically, recovery speed, and the two bonus plays here show just how much catch-up speed rookie CB Eric Stokes has. When the Browns go for two after their second touchdown, Peoples-Jones has a step on Stokes as he runs across the back of the end zone, and Mayfield sees it. But by the time he throws the ball, Stokes is well on his way to closing the gap, and as the ball arrives it's cut off completely.
Bonus play 2: Second-and-7 from the Cleveland 44, fourth quarter, 13:28 left
Result: Incomplete pass
Stokes should have intercepted this ball and he knows it, but it's worth showing the miscue anyway to again see his recovery speed. This time the intended target is TE Austin Hooper (81), which is a speed mismatch. But watch how much ground Stokes swallows up as Mayfield makes his read and ill-advised throw.