Packers: Rashan Gary can be a difference-maker in NFC title game

Green Bay Packers, Rashan GaryApc Packvsrams 0116211015djp
Green Bay Packers, Rashan GaryApc Packvsrams 0116211015djp /

In their first six games of the season, the Green Bay Packers allowed an average of 26.5 points per game.

In their past six, they are allowing 17.3 including five games holding their opponents under 20 points.

It’s the dramatic rise of Green Bay’s defense that sets this team up well for a rematch against a team that put 38 past them earlier in the season.

While the focus of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will center around Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, two all-world quarterbacks battling for the first time in the postseason, slipping under the radar is Green Bay’s defense.

Mike Pettine’s group has taken big steps forward down the stretch and will be vital in slowing down the Brady-led offense.

Rashan Gary can ruin Bucs’ plans of Week 6 repeat

When the two teams collided earlier in the season, the Packers’ pass rushers were bystanders with front-row seats as Brady picked apart the secondary. Brady wasn’t sacked all game and with time in the pocket, threw two touchdown passes with a passer rating of 104.9.

Green Bay’s offense didn’t help by turning the ball over twice, with one possession starting on its own two-yard line. Those offensive mistakes need to be corrected.

But the defensive performance needs to, and likely will, be much better.

Enter Rashan Gary.

Gary played three snaps in last season’s NFC title game defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. A year on, he can be the difference-maker for the Packers’ defense.

Back in the October matchup, Gary played a season-low 27 percent of the defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. He was returning from an ankle injury that kept him limited at practice the week leading up to the game.

Gary has become a bigger factor down the stretch and is coming off the performance of his career against the Los Angeles Rams when he made 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss.

According to Pro Football Focus, he’s their highest-graded edge defender since Week 16. Gary is playing great football and will give this defense something it lacked in the previous meeting with the Bucs.

The Packers are going to need to continue their improved level of play against the Buccaneers this week. To defeat Tom Brady, they must be able to generate pressure.

It won’t be easy against a good offensive line, one that didn’t allow a single sack in the first meeting of these teams.

But the Packers defense has stepped up in their past six games. Rashan Gary is playing the best football of his career and can make a significant impact in the NFC Championship Game.