The Packers improve to 2-0 on the 2019 season, beating two NFC North division rivals in their first two games.
“Wins aren’t pretty in the NFL but as long as you get that W in the win column, that’s all that matters,” said running back Aaron Jones who had a career-high 23 touches against the Vikings this past Sunday.
Despite the offense putting up 21 points in the first 16 minutes of game action, the day once again belonged to the defense. When the offense failed to sustain drives, the defense came up big when it mattered most. Once again, a Packers defender caught an interception in the corner of the end zone to all but seal the victory. Last week it was Adrian Amos. Against the Vikings it was Kevin King.
“I think that was the difference of the game,” said Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams recognized the importance of standing strong in the red zone and what it can do for a team.
“I think that we can be a really good red zone team,” he said. “That’s one of the statistics that you want to be top of the league at, red zone defense.”
Jaire Alexander, who stuck to the Vikings receivers all game, was confident in the defense’s emergence through these first two games.
“This is a really good defense. This is a really good secondary at that. We’re just putting people on notice.”
That really good defense limited Kirk Cousins to 14 completions for 230 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, giving him a quarterback rating of 52.9.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had plenty of praise for his defense once again after Week 2, but he pointed out Alexander and King specifically as players on the rise.
“I think the thing that separates them from other corner tandems is the football IQ. Just understanding route concepts, break points, and tendencies,” he said. “And the best guys we’ve had here, in my opinion, with Tramon and the two other really stud guys we had, Al Harris and Charles Woodson, were the best at that.”
Another defensive tandem making waves for their performance? Za’Darius and Preston Smith, who continue to address the media together after games.
“We’re young and we’re talented. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that want to have fun and do their job,” said Za’Darius.
“When we play like us and we play to our level we know we can play to, we’re damn-near unstoppable,” said Preston.
Their quarterback has noticed the impact both Smiths have had already, too, both on and off the field.
“Just the whole energy of the building is different I think and those two are a big part of it and Billy is a big part of it and Adrian is a big part of it, and the second-year guys growing up is a big part of it, and Marcedes coming back is a big part of it, and Jimmy’s presence is a big part of it,” said Rodgers.
“It’s a lot closer-knit group than we’ve had in years past, I give Brian and his staff and everybody buying into Matt’s system the credit for that.”
Rodgers isn’t taken the defense for granted, either, highlighting that the offense hasn’t played up to their standards yet this season.
“We put them in a couple tough spots the last two weeks. That’s why I was proud of our guys getting a couple first downs on that last drive,” he said.
“Kevin with a big pick in the end zone. Preston had a deflection pick. The ball was out a number of times. When we’ve been at our best over the years on defense, we’ve been a very opportunistic, turnover machine-type of defense. It’s shaping up that way for sure with those guys.”
LaFleur was asked about that turnover-machine defense and what he thought about the group celebration after Preston’s deflection interception.
“This is their team,” he said, emphasizing that the coaches have always preached that the team belongs to the players. He described the defensive unit as a connected one, and it showed in the post-game photos.
“Talk about two, grind it out games that are going to come down to the end, and I thought our guys continue to stay together. And that’s what we keep preaching to them,” said LaFleur. “I think there’s a lot of character in that locker room. I’m really proud of those guys.”
Naturally, the television cameras caught LaFleur and Rodgers exchanging words on the sideline after a poor offensive series. When both men were asked about the dialogue, they shrugged it off.
“Two competitive guys, and I’m sure it’s not going to be the last one we have,” said LaFleur on the disagreement. “You want guys that are extreme competitors, and that’s what he is.”
“I just want to make sure he and I are on the same page, we’re calling things that he feels comfortable with. If he feels confident in it, it has a lot better chance of working.”
During a defensive series, LaFleur went as far as to sit on the bench with Rodgers to break everything down. He acknowledged his comfort with Mike Pettine calling the shots on defense that allowed him to have that opportunity with Rodgers, citing Pettine’s previous head coaching experience as a benefit in that situation.
Rodgers also indicated it was something new for him to have his head coach sitting down next to him during the game.
Both men are hypercompetitive and understand that the defense has been the star of the show these last two games, and both men are determined to correct the offense’s struggles in the coming weeks.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement all across the board,” said LaFleur.
Rodgers did feel that the team looked good in spurts, but the goal now is sustained success. “I think we’ve had a couple good quarters out of eight. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Center Corey Linsley agreed. “I think that there’s obviously a lot to build off of and if we can sustain this for four quarters, we’re going to be a dangerous team.”
He went on to acknowledge that sustained success is a struggle for every NFL team.
Overall, though, the team is still confident with the men in the locker room, and wins don’t come easy in the National Football League. The Packers have two under their belt already to go with their new team chemistry and confidence.
“Any time you win a division game, especially against a quality opponent like the Minnesota Vikings, you can never take that for granted,” said LaFleur.
On the record, Rodgers was straightforward.
“2,0, and 2-0 in the division,” he said. “Last year I believe we won one in the division. We’re on the right track there.”
“We’re 2-0 right now baby,” said a smiling Za’Darius Smith.
The 2-0 Packers stay home on Sunday to face off against the 0-2 Denver Broncos at Lambeau Field.
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