Packers shut out Russell Wilson to reclaim NFC supremacy
The Packers held Russell Wilson and the Seahawks scoreless in Week 10, moving to the top of the NFC standings in the process.
The Green Bay Packers held Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks scoreless in Week 10, ruining the veteran quarterback's return from a finger injury. The win returned the Packers to the top of the NFC standings as well, giving them the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the process.
Thank you for reading and supporting our coverage. You can also support our work by following us on Twitter:
Jason B. Hirschhorn: @by_JBH
Peter Bukowski: @Peter_Bukowski
Thanks for making The Leap a part of your day.
How do you divvy up the credit for the Packers' defensive turnaround?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: The Packers' defensive turnaround has multiple authors. Players at all three levels of the defense have played outstanding ball over the past three weeks, and that in turn reflects on the fine work of general manager Brian Gutekunst and the personnel department.
Still, the biggest change appears to have come from the coaching staff itself. Joe Barry, a polarizing defensive-coordinator hire, got off to a rough start in his Green Bay tenure. Both Peter and I pilloried his performance against the New Orleans Saints in the season opener and chronicled the defense's mistakes in the weeks that immediately followed.
But over a stretch of the schedule that featured three quality opponents — the Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, and Seahawks — the Packers yielded just 35 points and demonstrated marked improvement in several longstanding areas of weakness, the red zone chief among them. Barry doesn't deserve all the credit for that turnaround, but he does deserve the largest portion of it. He has the unit performing at its highest level yet without its All-Pro-caliber cornerback and premier pass rusher.
Peter Bukowski: It has to start with Brian Gutekunst because he brought in the lion’s share of both the top-end talent and the secondary players (some of whom happen to also be secondary players by position. Hitting on De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas and Henry Black put this team over the top after he brought in Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos, Eric Stokes, the Smith Bros, Rashan Gary, and 10/11 defensive starters.
That said, the reason Mike Pettine isn’t coaching this team anymore is that the coaching staff wasn’t making it work. Clearly, Matt LaFleur believed that was uniquely a Pettine problem because he brought in Joe Barry and left the rest of the team intact.
Aaron Rodgers said after the game, the scheme change —their ability to play two-shell coverage and still stop the run— buoyed this group and that’s a credit to Barry. We can’t ignore the work Barry has done getting this team prepared to play in a brand new defense, while also showing better fundamentals in assignments, tackling, and communication.
The craziest part to me is the Packers have given up 34 points to Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson combined without Gutekunst’s two biggest hits: Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith. That’s a credit to both Gutey and Barry, as well as the players for making it work while the team works to get back to full strength.
Which injury is more impactful: Rashan Gary's or Aaron Jones'?
JBH: While the outlook could change based on MRIs coming over the next 24 hours, it seems that Rashan Gary has an earlier return window than Aaron Jones. The Packers believe Gary hyperextended his elbow and avoided any breakage or ligament damage, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Meanwhile, the initial tests suggest Jones has an MCL sprain, an injury that could take several weeks to heal but won't necessarily require surgery, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
But even though Gary might miss less time, the Packers will likely feel his absence to a greater degree. The former first-round pick has come into his own as a pass rusher in 2021, accounting for more than a third of the team's total quarterback hits entering Week 10, according to Pro Football Reference. Gary also remains a steady run defender, making him one of the rare complete players along the Green Bay defensive front. He played as big a role as any defender in shutting out a Russell Wilson-led offense for the first time ever.
Those traits would make Gary's loss significant in any context. However, the Packers have essentially played the entire season without Za'Darius Smith and saw Whitney Mercilus go down with a bicep injury midway through Sunday's game, leaving Preston Smith and Jonathan Garvin as the top remaining edge rushers.
Green Bay faces the division-rival Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams over the next two weeks. If Gary misses one or both, as seems reasonable at this moment, his injury could tilt the NFC playoff picture.
PB: I’m going with Jones here because of how difficult Jones’ versatility will be to replicate. Jonathan Garvin’s improvement and Kenny Clark’s dominance lessens the blow of Gary’s loss. Offensively, sliding Patrick Taylor in the Jones role creates an ocean of a gap in reliability, explosiveness, and skill set.
A.J. Dillon offers myriad skills to an offense, someone he showed off Sunday with over 120 total yards, including a pulverizing 50-yard catch-and-run where he shrugged off a handful of Seahawk would-be tacklers.
But he’s not running jet sweeps or running swing motion into a receiver screen, making a man miss in the hole and getting 15 yards. He’s not going to get looks from Rodgers split out running slants, then slant-and-gos on linebackers. LaFleur paired Dillon with Randall Cobb in the backfield using some of the same looks they utilized with Jones and Dillon late last year and perhaps it will be Cobb who picks up some of that slack, but he can’t dictate matchups the same way.
What we're hearing/seeing
JBH: Peter and I have used this space to feature several of the Packers' under-the-radar pickups from the year. However, we have yet to highlight T.J. Slaton, a fifth-round rookie who has carved out a significant role along the defensive line.
Ostensibly, the Packers selected Slaton to provide depth along the interior and see work on special teams, with anything more than that representing bonus production. Slaton quickly carved out jobs on early downs and the field-goal units, but he has grown his role in recent weeks. Against the Chiefs, Slaton played a career-high 45 snaps from scrimmage, a near-equal split of run and pass downs. Defensive-line coach Jerry Montgomery continued to use Slaton extensively during Sunday's win over the Seahawks, with the rookie short-circuiting drives with run stops.
Slaton can play over the center or farther out, giving the Packers no shortage of places to find him work. Given how he has performed of late, he should see the field even more in the coming weeks.
PB: Rookie Eric Stokes did not allow a reception in 47 coverage snaps on Sunday, mostly matched up with Tyler Lockett. His sticky coverage jumps out consistently in film study of this team and his speed covers, coincidentally, for so much.
At the end of the first half, the Seahawks wanted to take a shot with Lockett on the rookie. When the ball was in the air, I’m sure more than one Cheesehead flashed back to the end of the NFC Championship Game with Scotty Miller breezing past Kevin King for a dagger touchdown.
Stokes wasn’t having it. Even though Lockett got him turned around, the speed from the former track star kept him in the play. As former NFL DB Eric Crocker points out in the clip above, Stokes never panics, keeps his eyes on Lockett until he looks for the ball, then has the balance and awareness to turn and find it in the air.
His ball skills come and go at times. He’ll lose passes in the air, or fight it at the catch point. Occasionally, he’ll knock a ball down when you’d like to see him pick it, but he’s constantly in good position to make a play on his man or in his area.
I have to take the L on this pre-draft evaluation. Rookies are usually bad. Rookie cornerbacks are almost always bad. Stokes has been a revelation for the Packers secondary and he’s already reliable with plenty of room for improvement. I didn’t think he was a first-round cornerback.
I, Peter Bukowski, was wrong.
PB: Rodgers said after the game he “felt good about the conversations” around the pursuit of Odell Beckham Jr. that ultimately proved fruitless. He confirmed he talked to OBJ about coming to Green Bay but said the fit wasn’t right.
This is yet another moment where Rodgers could have lobbed a shot at the front office, or at least eschewed praise, but instead offered his support for how the situation was handled. Considering how additions like the aforementioned Campbell, Douglas, and Whitney Mercilus have played, it’s not hard to see why Rodgers’ stance on the organization may be softening.
There’s still so much to be decided between now and March, but the Packers have a good shot at the 1 seed, may just be the most consistent team in the NFL, and could be getting healthier. It’s also not hard to see why he’d want to stay. There will still be fans who vent about the team not being all-in or caring enough about winning, but it matters more what QB1 thinks and for now, he sounds like he’s on board.