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Packers’ Smiths continue to prove to be good investments

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By KEITH JENKINS AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — March 14 is proving to be a very important day for the 2019 Green Bay Packers.

That was the day the Packers signed free agent outside linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith.

The Smiths, not related, combined for eight total tackles, six quarterback hits, five sacks and a forced fumble in Green Bay’s 27-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

“You know, going into this week, we knew we had to play with a lot of juice,” said Preston Smith, who matched a career high with three sacks. “We knew we had to play together and we had to go out there and execute. … We had to go out there and play as one. That’s what we’re known for, playing together, regardless of the circumstances.”

The Packers on March 14 also signed safety Adrian Amos and offensive lineman Billy Turner, who have had valuable impacts in their own rights. But it has been the Smiths who have been the driving force behind a defense that has led Green Bay to its first 3-0 start since 2015.

WHAT’S WORKING

The Packers’ defense has dominated through the first three weeks.

Green Bay has allowed 35 points, the fewest surrendered by the Packers in the first three games since 2001 (13). Green Bay grabbed three takeaways (two fumble recoveries and an interception) on Sunday, making it at least three takeaways for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s group in back-to-back weeks. The Packers’ eight takeaways are their most through three games since 2009 (9).

“Man, that’s the goal we aim for every week, is to be the best we can be and to be the best defense out there in the NFL,” Preston Smith said. “So, yeah, we’re turning into the best defense. I’m confident in these guys.”

WHAT’S NOT WORKING

The offense scored a season-high 27 points on Sunday, but there’s still something missing.

The Packers have the seventh-ranked offense in the first quarter, but that ranking plummets to 30th through the second and fourth quarters.

Aaron Rodgers has yet to throw an interception, has at least 200 yards passing and a passer rating of at least 90 in each of the first three games. But it’s not enough. His play through his first 11 seasons as a starter created an almost impossible standard. An undefeated record is cool, but the idea that Green Bay is unbeaten only because of the play of its defense is not OK to the two-time MVP.

“I want to play better,” he said. “I want to score more points. I mean, obviously you love having a defense, but I don’t take any satisfaction in having an ‘oh, OK’ performance. No, I want to have greatness out there.”

STOCK UP

First-round picks Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage each had breakout performances on Sunday. Savage, a safety the Packers drafted with the 21st overall pick, got his first career interception when he picked off Joe Flacco in the third quarter. Pass rusher Gary, who Green Bay took with the 12th overall selection, had his first fumble recovery and sack. Gary, whose locker is situated between the Smiths, said it was time he finally got in on the action.

“I feel like that’s just expected out of one another,” he said. “I know when I go in the game and I look at Preston and I look at Z (Za’Darius), they expect something from me. I feel like that’s the type of mindset our defense has.”

STOCK DOWN

After scoring the first touchdown of the NFL’s 100th season in Week 1, Jimmy Graham has zero catches and only two total targets in the last two weeks. The five-time Pro Bowler played just 24 of the Packers’ 57 snaps on Sunday.

INJURED

Inside linebacker Oren Burks, who did not participate in practice on Monday, continues to be sidelined with a partially torn pectoral muscle. The Packers initially were prepared for Burks to miss the first four weeks, so Burks could be nearing a return.

KEY NUMBER

0 — Green Bay’s offensive line did not allow a sack on Sunday. It was the unit’s first zero-sack game since November 2016.

NEXT STEPS

The Packers have a quick turnaround. Green Bay will host the Eagles on Thursday night for its third game in 11 days. Short-handed Philadelphia is reeling after back-to-back losses by a combined seven points.

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