Packers Young Defense Makes Key Plays at Crunch Time


Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is tackled by Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels (76). Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, with the Green Bay Packers up 24-16 midway through the fourth quarter, the Chicago Bears offense drove the ball all the way to Green Bay’s 29-yard line, looking to score and tie up the game.

After an up-and-down defensive performance, the Packers needed someone-just anyone-to step up and make a stop on defense. All-pro linebacker Clay Matthews answered the call.

Dropping back in coverage and watching Jay Cutler‘s eyes, Matthews jumped the quarterback’s throw over the middle to tight end Martellus Bennett, intercepting the pass and putting the game well out of reach for their division foe.

In week two, a similar scene unfolded for the Packers defense. Except, this time it wasn’t Green Bay’s star defensive player that made the stop.

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With 2:38 left in the game and Green Bay up 24-17, a revived Seattle Seahawks offense marched downfield, looking to score and put this game into overtime. As a fan, it was easy to reflect back on Russell Wilson‘s  heroic late-game efforts on January 18th.

Perhaps, history was repeating itself.

Seattle’s offense was rolling. After a flat first half, where Green Bay’s defense held Marshawn Lynch to only 31 yards rushing and Seattle to three points, the Seahawks came out in the third quarter and strung together two scoring drives. They moved Russell Wilson out of the pocket and implemented more read option, which put the Packers defense on their heels.

After the Packers scored a touchdown and two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter to go up 24-17, the Seahawks looked to respond under the leadership of their third-year quarterback.

Wilson was on fire in the second half, and with only a little over two and a half minutes left in the game and the ball near midfield, things didn’t look good for the Packers defense.

However, this time around an unlikely hero emerged.

Undrafted second-year linebacker Jayrone Elliott made the play of the game. On a first-and-ten, the Seahawks invited Green Bay’s rush and snuck Lynch out in the flat for a screen pass.

On tape, it’s easy to see how much real estate Lynch has in front of him on this play. If the ball reaches his hands, he’s gone. This was so close to either being a scoring play for Seattle or a big gain to put them in the red zone.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Jay Elliott (91) is tackled by Seattle Seahawks tackle Garry Gilliam (79) after making an interception during the second half. Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

However, instead, Elliott got a hand up and pulled down the ball to intercept the pass. It was an impressive play made by a young player at a crucial point in the game.

This was not another one of Matthews’ clutch moments or a veteran like Julius Peppers stepping up to make a key stop. It was Elliott–a guy who started the season as the Packers’ fifth outside linebacker on the depth chart. A guy who was only playing in his sixth snap of the game, and who only played in 19 total snaps from scrimmage last week. A guy who previously only made a splash during the preseason or on special teams.

A young player on the Packers defense finally stepped up and made something happen. The Packers finally stopped Wilson and company, and avoided another Seattle miracle comeback.

And to top this off, Elliott also forced a fumble to end Seattle’s final drive of the game.

If the Packers defense can continue to grit out performances against top opponents like they did this past Sunday, then they’ll be in good shape this season. However, in order to do this they need their young players to continue to step up and emerge at the right moments.

Next week, the Packers face another elite NFL running back in Jamaal Charles when they host the Kansas City Chiefs. They also have to guard one of the top tight ends in the league in Travis Kelce.

However, early signs show that his Packers defense is young and ascending. It seems they’re just now figuring things out. I think come Monday night, they’ll be okay.

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