By: Matt Bove
The style of football that the Green Bay Packers are playing has definitely changed this season. They are winning with defense and physical play on offense.
"Our big guys are where it starts," McCarthy said. "We talked about it earlier. We talked about it Saturday night in the team meeting. We're going to lean on our big dogs. That will definitely be a apart of our focus going forward."
Going into the season the Packers planned on being a bigger and more physical football team. With the additions of Nick Perry, Johnny Jolly and Mike Neal at OLB on defense the front seven was a much more physically imposing group than last season.
With Clay Matthews out, Perry and Neal were doing an exceptional job of setting the edge against the run and rushing the passer. Amazingly, both of them got injured, and the Packers did not really miss a beat with Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer at outside linebacker. Brandon Weeden had a lot to do with it, but for two guys who were never supposed to be on the field this year the fact that the defense was functional was a great sign.
It was also a testament to AJ Hawk, Jamari Lattimore and the defensive line rotation that the defense has been able to survive. Hawk has been playing better this season than any other in his career thanks to a new offseason training program that has improved his athleticism. He has been making more impact plays, including his three sacks at Baltimore. Lattimore had 12 tackles against Cleveland and he really packed a punch with his hits. Lattimore is also very solid in coverage with his athleticism. He will be hard to take off the field even with Brad Jones returning.
. The defensive line is the best that it has been in the Mike McCarthy era. The bets thing is the rotation. BJ Raji no longer has to play over 50 plays a game and nobody on the d line really has to play much over 30 plays a game. Everybody remains fresh and active with Mike Daniels and Datone Jones playing in the nickel.
Ryan Pickett, Raji and Jolly are probably the biggest base 3-4 defensive line in the NFL. The Packers are 3rd in the NFL in rush defense (79.6 yards per game) after finishing 17th last season (118.5 yards per game). Also, they are allowing only 3.4 yards per rush this season, which is also good for third in the NFL.
With Matthews, Perry, Casey Heyward and Brad Jones all returning in the near future the Packers' defense should only continue to improve. When you combine the physicality of the front seven with the spectacular talent at corner and Morgan Burnett good things should continue to happen.
On offense, the Packers have had to deal with losses to Randall Cobb, James Jones and now Jermichael Finley. Finley might be the hardest one to swallow, with his versatility and the kind of season he was having. It is shame that the injury happened right when he was finally coming into his own.
The aerial show that the Packers have been displaying the last few seasons might have to be put on hold until Cobb, Jones and Finley return. Cobb and Jones will be returning, while there still is a chance Finley can come back.
Aaron Rodgers had a strong game in his first game without them, as he threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns against Cleveland. Jarrett Boykin stepped up with eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Still, it was Eddie Lacy and the offensive line that kept Cleveland off balance.
Lacy has completely changed the tone of this offense. He has great patience to read plays along with his awesome ability to always fall forward and not to go down on first contact. He has kept defenses honest, which has opened up the play action for Rodgers more this season. Lacy should only get better with the cold weather coming, as some defenders might not want to take him on in the frigid temperatures.
The Packers are sixth in the NFL in rushing (134.7 yards per game) and are 3rd in the NFL in yard per attempt (4.9). Lacy leads the NFL in rushing over the last three weeks with 301 yards. These kind of rushing numbers used to be unheard of in Green Bay.
This type of football should translate better to the playoffs than the way the Packers had been playing before. As long as Rodgers, Lacy and both lines remain healthy the Packers should be able to survive this stretch of games against weaker performances until the cavalry returns. This gives the Packers a better chance of playing their best football at the end of the season, which they have not been doing in recent years.
Imagine Rodgers with all his weapons, a running game and a physical defense? That could happen at the end of this season, and that would be a scary proposition for opposing teams.