Free-agent pass-rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith plus Alexander (the 2018 first-round pick) along with Savage and Gary (the 2019 first-round picks) looked like the playmakers that general manager Brian Gutekunst wanted when he brought them to town.
The Smiths combined to sack Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco five times -- and one of Preston’s three sacks was a strip/forced fumble that the Packers recovered. Gary came up with his first career sack with the kind of effort that some questioned he had coming out of college. Alexander (forced fumble and recovery) and Savage (interception) each came up with third-quarter takeaways in the Packers' 27-16 victory Sunday.
Through three games, the Smiths already have more combined sacks (7.5) than last year’s starting edge rusher combo of Clay Matthews (3.5) and Nick Perry (1.5) posted all of last season. That’s (signing bonus) money of $36 million well spent.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s first career forced fumble/recovery and Savage’s first career interception helped aid an offense that still hasn’t found its stride under first-year coach Matt LaFleur. The Packers' 3-0 record heading to Thursday's game against the Eagles is thanks largely to their defensive additions.
Describe the game in two words: Turnovers. Turnovers. OK, that’s the same word twice, but this was the second time in three games this season that the Packers forced at least three turnovers. Last year, they had two games all season with three-plus takeaways. Two of the turnovers set up short touchdown drives -- that totaled six plays and 42 yards -- to aid an offense that still hasn’t found its stride under LaFleur. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine went into this season wanting more takeaways from a defense that came up with only 15 last year (including the second-lowest interception total -- seven -- in the league).
"Takeaways is the biggest determining factor," Pettine said leading into the opener. "That’s something we made an investment in in a lot of different ways, and it’s something we stress every day. And we have gotten the results both in practice and in the preseason games, and we’re hopeful that’s going to carry over because we think we’ve developed really good habits. I think guys are doing things to help create takeaways to the point now where it’s more ingrained than they have to think about it."
Promising trend: As much as the Packers have struggled to find their way in LaFleur’s offense, at least Aaron Rodgers has been able to avoid interceptions. He hasn’t thrown one yet this season, and it was his NFL-best 16th game without an interception since the start of the 2018 season.
Troubling trend: LaFleur has put together opening scripts that have allowed Rodgers and the offense to start fast the past two weeks. But like last week when the Packers didn’t score after three touchdowns on the first three drives, it didn’t last. LaFleur and his young staff must find ways to make in-game adjustments in order to put teams away earlier.