Monday, September 23, 2019

Broncos Can't Buck Packers in Fourth Quarter, Lose 27-16

By Eric Goska
A trombonist plays “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”
prior to the Packers-Broncos game at soggy Lambeau Field.
At Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers organization cuts off beer sales at the end of the third quarter.

At home or on the road, the Green Bay Packers football team has decided that that point in the game is as good as any to shutter opposition scoring.

For the first time in a generation, the Packers are pitching a fourth-quarter shutout through the opening three games of a season. Their latest victim – the Denver Broncos – came up empty in the final 15 minutes of a 27-16 loss Sunday in Green Bay.

Just as the Bears and Vikings did in Weeks 1 and 2, the Broncos tallied enough points to stay within striking distance of Green Bay heading into the fourth quarter. But as Chicago and Minnesota learned previously, the Packers (3-0) have been disabling the visitor’s side of the scoreboard at the same time vendors are turning off their taps.

Through three games, Green Bay’s defense has earned rave reviews from the media and fans alike. No less an authority than Aaron Rodgers proclaimed, “We have a defense!” after the Packers squeaked past the Bears 10-3 in the opener.

But how good is the unit, really? Statistically, where does it rank in comparison to some of the team’s defenses of the past 40 years?

The Broncos (0-3) had little trouble mounting two time-consuming, first-half drives. Phillip Lindsay polished off the first – a 15-play, 77-yard affair that lasted 8 minutes, 35 seconds – with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Brandon McManus capped the second – a 15-play, 63-yard drive that drained 7:29 from the clock – with a 30-yard field goal that tied the score at 10-10 late in the second quarter.

Not since 1979 had the Packers allowed two first-half scoring drives of more than 7 minutes each. That year, the Saints chewed up 7:05 and 7:35 while putting up a pair of field goals in a 28-19 loss to Green Bay.

Denver also sprinkled in a couple of big plays. Lindsay (36 yards) and receiver Courtland Sutton (52) moved the chains in one fell swoop on passes from Joe Flacco.

That’s similar to what Minnesota did a week earlier. Dalvin Cook (75), Chad Beebe (61) and Stefon Diggs (45) all gained more than 35 yards on a single down.

So what is it that this Green Bay unit is doing well to earn the praise that has been tossed its way? Is it excelling in one particular area?

Through three games, opponents have gained 985 yards against the Packers. That places this unit squarely in the middle when compared to the last 41 Green Bay has fielded since the inception of the 16-game schedule in 1978. The yardage it has allowed is much higher than the 576 surrendered by the 1996 Super Bowl team which ranks first over that span.

Sportscaster Chris Myers mentioned turnovers more than once during the Packers-Broncos game. The eight Green Bay has forced ties it with the 1987 and 2002 clubs for the fourth most since 1978. The 1996 championship squad was again tops with 13.

How about sacks? By grabbing six against the Broncos – linebacker Preston Smith had three – the defense doubled its total to 12.  That’s good enough for a third-place tie with the units of 1985 and 2012, and it is three behind the pacesetting 2001 outfit.

Obviously there are other metrics that could be examined. But since the ultimate goal of any defense is to prevent scoring, perhaps this unit’s crowning achievement has been its work in the fourth quarter.

Victory Boulevard is just minutes
from Lambeau Field.
Though Green Bay has led after three quarter each time out, victory was far from assured. Its four-, five- and eight-point advantages could easily have been erased by a single score.

That this didn’t happen speaks to the strength – perhaps overlooked – of Mike Pettine’s group to date.

Green Bay has been tested in the fourth quarter like no other. That’s to be expected when the competition is playing catch-up.

By period, here are the number of plays and yards the team has allowed: first (44-164), second (50-282), third (47-333) and fourth (57-206). Though more yards have been yielded in the fourth quarter than the first, the average gain per play is lower at 3.61 versus 3.73.

Additionally, the big play has been all but eliminated. The team has yielded one gain of more than 17 yards – a 21-yard reception by the Bears’ Allen Robinson II – in the final 15 minutes as compared to 10 plays of that length in earlier portions of the game.

Two of the team’s four interceptions have come in the fourth quarter. Four of its 12 sacks have originated there.

Most impressive, perhaps, the team has tightened up against the pass. Mitch Trubisky, Kirk Cousins and Flacco completed 22 of 40 passes for 164 yards. That works out to a puny passer rating of 44.2, a number so small it wouldn’t frighten the Miami Dolphins.

If the Packers’ offense is going to continue to struggle in the second half – Rodgers’ first-half rating (112.9) is 41 points higher than his second-half number (71.7) – Green Bay is going to have to be especially stout after the break.

This unit of 2019 – infused with draft choices and free agents – might just be up for that challenge.

No Quarter in the Fourth
The 11 seasons in which the Packers held their first three opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter. Also listed are the number of plays and yards their opponents gained in that period through three games. Totals are unofficial for seasons prior to 1972.

Year    Thru 3       Opponents                                  Plays   Yards     Final Record
2019       3-0         Bears, Vikings, Broncos                  57        206               NA
2001       3-0         Lions, Redskins, Panthers               43        190              12-4
1982       3-0         Rams, Giants, Vikings                     48        153              5-3-1
1972       2-1         Browns, Raiders, Cowboys             62        190              10-4
1937       1-2         Cardinals, Bears, Lions                   34        -2                  7-4
1935       2-1         Cardinals, Bears, Giants                  43        46                 8-4
1930       3-0         Cardinals, Bears, Giants                  39        121             10-3-1
1929       3-0         Triangles, Bears, Cardinals              34        90               12-0-1
1928      0-2-1       Yellow Jackets, Bears, Giants         40        36                6-4-3
1925       2-1         Pros, Bears, Independents               38        81                 8-5
1923      1-1-1       Marines, All-Stars, Bears                21        73                7-2-1

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