This Green Bay Packers team isn’t like what we’ve seen in recent years. They’re tough, gritty, and proved they can play the rugged style of football necessary to win on the road against a smash-mouth AFC North opponent.
Who are these Packers?
This isn’t the arial assault we saw in 2011. The team that set franchise records on offense, but also fizzled out when faced against a more physical opponent in January.
Hey, the 2013 Packers may not always put up 400 yards passing and light up the scoreboard, but I get the feeling with wins like in Baltimore they’re taking one step closer to being the team that can get it done in January.
With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers have been defined in recent years by their ability to spread teams out and outscore them. For awhile, it seemed the only effective offense being run in Green Bay was the hurry-up or spread formation.
This is football’s equivalent to a fastbreak team. At times, they can overwhelm opponents as they score points and wrack up yards, but when it came to slowing the game down, protecting the lead, and getting those tough yards on the ground, the Packers were clearly lacking in this area.
The Packers breakneck speed on offense was killing their defense. Green Bay lost the time of possession battle against tougher teams like the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, who could slow the game down and wear out the defense with their running game.
It’s also no secret Green Bay has struggled to finish out close games, specifically on the road. Look at their two losses this year. The Packers gave up fourth-quarter leads in San Francisco and in Cincinnati to fall just short by one score. Late in the game, their offense couldn’t sustain drives and protect the lead and allow their defense a chance to catch their breath.
Simply put, the Packers have lacked a closer. A player that can run for those tough yards, keep the chains moving, and let the clock tick down as the defense rests on the sideline and the Packers maintain control of the game.
Well, now if the past two weeks have proven anything is that Green Bay now has that player in rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
The Packers went into the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions with a 16-3 lead. With key runs from Lacy, Green Bay’s offense was able to put together two important drives that each ended in a field goal and ate up almost eight minutes of the game clock.
A week later and the Packers were faced with a similar scenario. Heading into the fourth quarter, Green Bay was once again leading 16-3, but the Ravens were beginning to get things together on offense and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come within one score of the Packers.
After the first Baltimore touchdown, the Packers were only leading by six points. The Packers offense had been struggling all day with only two healthy receivers in the lineup. In their first drive of the fourth quarter, Green Bay went 72 yards downfield on ten plays and held the ball for 7:35. They finished the drive with a field goal to go up two scores with just a little over four minutes left in the game. 38 of the 72 yards on the drive were gained on the ground from rushes by Lacy. It may have been the most important drive of the game and the Packers’ rookie was the center piece.
The Ravens scored again on their following possession and made the game 19-16 in Green Bay’s favor with just little over two minutes left in the contest. The Packers of the past may have not had the ground game to close this game out, but the 2013 Packers are a different story.
They converted two key first downs. The first coming from a 52-yard Jermichael Finley reception over the middle of the field on a third-and-three, and the second coming from a four-yard Lacy run on third down to put the game away for good.
The Packers offense was able to hold on to the ball at the end of the game and close out the win. Lacy finished the game with a 120 yards rushing on 23 carries, but more impressively, he got the tough yards late in the game that enabled the Packers to control the clock and prevent a Baltimore offense that was just getting on a roll from having an additional possession late in the game.
Only being down to two healthy receivers for a majority of the game, do you think the Packers of the past few years could have pulled this victory off?
I don’t think so. That’s what’s different about this year’s team. They have a closer in the backfield. In fact, in just three games, Lacy has rushed for 104 yards on 23 carries in the fourth quarter. With an average of 4.5 yards a carry at the end of games, Green Bay now has the weapon on offense to put teams away in close, hard-fought contests.
This is something that will become more valuable late in the season as the Packers prepare for their playoff push.