Dougherty: Packers' offensive firepower too much even for Rams' No. 1 defense
GREEN BAY — The Los Angeles Rams simply couldn’t keep up with the NFL’s top-scoring offense.
Aaron Rodgers. Aaron Jones. Davante Adams. Robert Tonyan. Allen Lazard. Too much quarterback, too many weapons for even the league’s No. 1 defense to handle.
To be sure, the Rams’ great Aaron Donald wasn’t his usual self while going in and out of the lineup because of torn cartilage in his ribs. But no matter. The Packers have a lot of firepower, starting with but very much not limited to Rodgers, the NFL’s presumptive MVP.
Their 32-18 win over the Rams on Saturday showed again that the Packers have an elite receiver and running back, one of the league’s better pass-receiving tight ends, and some other skill players (Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) who, despite their shortcomings and rough patches this season, offer qualities that have carried the Packers to the NFC championship game.
At this point, it makes laughable all the criticism of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s decision to not even bother drafting a receiver last April. We’ve seen this season that the expert mix of run and pass, and Rodgers’ command of LaFleur’s scheme, have done more for the Packers’ offense this season than any rookie receiver could have.
“We knew what we had in terms of the players we had on our roster,” coach Matt LaFleur said after the Packers’ win, “and also those guys have embraced the challenge and they’ve gotten better.”
So now the Packers will be playing in the NFC championship game in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1990s. And unlike last year, when they were blown out in San Francisco, this time they’ll be home and the favorites, regardless of who wins the New Orleans Saints-Tampa Bay Buccaneers matchup Sunday.
Either way, the 37-year-old Rodgers will be going toe to toe with an all-time great quarterback, whether it’s 42-year-old Drew Brees or 43-year-old Tom Brady.
“My initial reaction is those guys are obviously great, great players, have been for a long time,” Rodgers said of Brees and Brady. “I don’t know if it will be the oldest, but the combined age of the starting quarterbacks will definitely be up there for the championship.”
And knowing both Brees and Brady have lived all season in the deep South, Rodgers later added: “Hopefully it’s a little colder than it was tonight.”
What stood out about this game is how the Packers rambled through a defense that gave up the fewest points (18.5 points a game), second-lowest passer rating (80.4) and third-fewest rushing yards (91.2 per game) in the league this season.
The Packers put up 32 points on the Rams, and it could have been worse if not for a four-play sequence that caused an empty possession in the middle of the third quarter. First, Rodgers missed a wide-open Valdes-Scantling for what probably would have been a 92-yard touchdown. Then, three plays later, Lazard slipped behind the defense but dropped what would have been a 60-yard touchdown. A touchdown on either of those plays and the Packers would have been up 32-10.
“Then you’re really playing downhill, (ahead) three scores,” Rodgers lamented.
Regardless, the Packers put the game away in the fourth quarter and now have scored at least 30 points in 13 games of 17 games this season. Also, their 484 yards in total offense were the most the Rams have allowed in a game all season.
Rodgers’ 108.1 rating didn’t do justice to how badly he outplayed the Rams’ Jared Goff (105.9), and Jones (99 yards), Jamaal Williams (65 yards) and AJ Dillon (27 yards) combined for 191 yards rushing. This was a complete, all-around performance.
When asked who’s going to stop this offense if the league’s No. 1 defense couldn’t, Adams replied: “Nobody. We stop ourselves. That’s been proven at this point. They’ve got a lot of guys that compete at a high level and some of the best at their position, but the way we come together is just different than anybody else."
It helped the Packers that Donald likely wasn’t himself after injuring rib cartilage last week against Seattle. He played a lot early, then was in and out of the game thereafter. And LaFleur made sure Donald wasn’t his usual disruptive self by double-teaming him routinely even though the Rams tried to make him hard to track by lining him up all over the line.
“He’s a game changer,” Adams said of Donald, “he’s really come into this league and taken it by storm. He’s one of the best football players, not just D-line, best football players in the league. And tonight he was not a factor. It says a lot about who they are as far as our (offensive line) line."
The Packers also are showing how a team can change through the course of four months and 16 games. In this case, coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense needed about two-thirds of the season to find an identity, but now it looks like it has one. No one is suggesting the Packers are dominant on that side of the ball, but holding the Rams to only 244 yards counts as another solid day’s work in what’s been a solid final month or so.
The Rams, hamstrung without their key slot receiver (Cooper Kupp, knee bursitis), simply didn’t have the juice to keep up. Cam Akers is a promising running back but didn’t do anything to change the game (90 yards rushing, 5.0 yards a carry). The Packers’ front put enough pressure on Goff to get off the field – Goff had only 174 yards passing – and sacked him four times. Ascending Rashan Gary and peaking Kenny Clark had 1½ of those sacks each.
So now the Packers go into the NFC championship game playing as well as anyone in the league. Only one game, a home game at that, stands between LaFleur’s team and a trip to the Super Bowl.