Three signs the Packers could be back
LANDOVER, M.D. -- Heading into the playoffs, a murky cloud hung over the heads of the Green Bay Packers.
Aaron Rodgers didn't seem to be himself during the latter part of the season. The defense didn't seem particularly strong. The Packers just couldn't seem to pick it up in the clutch moments, a trait that is vintage Green Bay football.
But in their NFC Wild Card matchup against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, that Green Bay magic seem to flow, and the Packers suddenly look like they are primed for another deep playoff run.
Here are three signs the Packers are back.
Three guys stepped up to combine for 140 yards in the Packers' run game: Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Randall Cobb. Yup, you read that right. Cobb, who served as Rodgers' most targeted wide receiver this season, set a career-high in rush attempts against the Redskins with five carries. Green Bay had experimented with Cobb in the backfield in the latter half of the season, but over the last two regular season games for the Packers, they shied away from that game plan. But Cobb provided a clear change of pace in the backfield.
"We were able to move the ball pretty well," Cobb said following the game. "We were able to pick up some first downs. We were able to put some points on the board, which was huge for us. We have to continue that."
Lacy and Starks had big games as well. Lacy burst out of the backfield for a 30-yard run on a crucial scoring drive late in the third quarter. Starks added a big play of his own, a 22-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that would lead to another Packers score.
As a whole, the Packers offense was stagnant early, finishing with 11 yards in the first quarter. The reason was because of Rodgers, who completed a single pass in his first eight attempts.
But Rodgers settled into the game, completing 20 of his next 28 passes. And Rodgers wasn't relying on just one player. Rodgers completed passes to seven different receivers. Cobb and Davante Adams, who Rodgers dubbed as "Mr. January," each caught a pass for a touchdown, and each one was due to Rodgers surgically carving his way through the Redskins defense. He recognized that it took him a while to settle in, but he stuck with the game plan and pushed through the adversity.
"I was just looking for my matchups," Rodgers said. "Missed a couple early on, but I got settled in and made some better throws and some good adjustments. I trusted the plan and Mike (McCarthy) was rolling it quickly."
"We just started off a little slow and we picked it back up," Starks added. "We did what we know we could do. We just move the ball, be patient, take what they give us."
That Washington offense was on fire over the last few weeks, going three straight games with more than 400 yards of total offense. Green Bay stuffed them and really contained the run game. Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson and Pierre Thomas combined for just 82 rushing yards. The front seven did an excellent job of holding their ground
"I thought we just made the adjustments we needed to (do)," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "For the most part, we stopped the run, and fortunately our offense was able to put points on the board."
"I think we did a decent job of neutralizing the run game," B.J. Raji said. "We felt that if we could do that, we'd give our rush guys and secondary a good chance at the ball."
Those rush guys got to Cousins early and often. The Packers defense combined for six sacks, and Cousins at time seemed flustered.
The Packers looked like their old selves in their opening game of the playoffs. Many had written off Green Bay, as their team on both sides of the ball just didn't seem to have that same confidence and swagger that they were known for. But Green Bay doesn't care about your expectations. They only care about what they believe in, and they believe this team has what it takes to win.
"We don't play for them," Rodgers said in reference to those who have written the Packers off. "We play for each other and we had a good plan. (We) played with a lot of passion, and executed really well."