Only meaningful takeaway from loss to Chiefs: Packers defense is for real

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How much can be ascertained from an out-of-conference road game with a backup quarterback starting? For the Green Bay Packers, not much. Sunday’s 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t necessarily revealing in terms of evaluating the long-term potential of quarterback Jordan Love, who made his first career NFL start, but the other side of the ball is starting to prove some things.

There’s really only one takeaway that matters coming out of the game: Joe Barry’s defense is ascending and looks for real entering the stretch run of games.

The offense will be fine. Likely more than fine. Both Aaron Rodgers and David Bakhtiari should return Sunday, and teams aren’t going to be blitzing the Packers without fear once the three-time MVP and five-time All-Pro are back in the lineup.

And one game in a tough environment isn’t enough to properly evaluate Love, especially considering how effective Kansas City’s blitz plan was and how little the Packers had ready to counter it.

So, what did we learn? The Packers defense can play at an elite level against the best of the best, even if the best of the best is in the middle of an identity crisis. The ascension of Joe Barry’s group from middling to good to potentially great is a transformation that could transform the Packers into a Super Bowl favorite. Matt LaFleur called it a “championship” performance.

How good were they on Sunday? 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes averaged 4.49 yards per attempt, the lowest in a single game in his career. He threw for 166 yards, the lowest in a game in which he’s thrown at least 35 passes. The Chiefs scored 13 points and gained 237 total yards, both the fewest in a game started by Mahomes.

Most impressively, the Packers accomplished the feat without All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander or All-Pro edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, and Pro Bowl defensive lineman Kenny Clark departed in the first half. At full strength, this defense could have the looks of an elite unit.

The numbers reflect the performance. Through nine games, the Packers are sixth in the NFL in points allowed, fifth in yards, fifth in takeaways, fifth in yards per play and seventh in opposing passer rating.

Combine an elite defense with Rodgers and Matt LaFleur’s offense and the 2021 Packers look more and more like the 2010 Packers.

A few other observations and takeaways from the contest:

– Elgton Jenkins was terrific again at left tackle. He started six games at the position and proved to be one of the NFL’s best. He’ll likely move back to left guard when Bakhtiari returns, but it’s hard to overstate his accomplishments at a premium position. Not many teams have a starting-caliber left tackle, the Packers have two legit Pro Bowlers.

– Twelve touches for A.J. Dillon didn’t feel like enough. He’s a positive-play machine, even when the run blocking isn’t perfect, and his performance in the passing game through nine games is more than enough evidence for his value there. It’s tough to get two great running backs enough touches, but the Packers need to keep trying.

– The field goal operation has to get cleaned up. The Packers have missed six field goals and an extra point through nine games; that’s 19 points. The whole thing has been a mess, from the blocking to the snapping to the holding to the kicking. It all needs to get better.