Now that the celebrations have subsided, and apprehension over having a third straight losing season has lessened, it’s a good time to analyze Green Bay’s stillborn rushing attack.
Before we panic about the O-line being way overrated, here’s my take. Yes it’s a game of tackling and blocking, but it’s also a competition of emotion and motivation. This was a special game for the Bears, who were celebrating their 100th year. Glimpses of the pre-game festivities indicated a rabid group of players and fans – unlike anything I’ve seen in Chi-town since the days of Walter Payton.
The inspired front seven in the NFL – rated by Sports Illustrated as NFL’s best – played beyond their normal capabilities. All five of the top Bears’ linemen came to play: Leonard Floyd had 4 tackles and 2 sacks; Khalil Mack, Roquon Smith, and Danny Trevathan each had 5 tackles; DT Akiem Hicks, LB Aaron Lynch, and DE Roy Robertson-Harris accounted for the other three sacks.
Last season the Bears led the NFL with eight players voted to the Pro Bowl, including Hicks and Mack. With this kind talent, the Bears didn’t need to blitz defensive backs to pressure Aaron Rodgers.
Next Sunday the emotional advantage will switch over to the Packers. With that first win under his belt, Matt LaFleur can take a full breath. In the aftermath of the satisfying win, Packers fans are now the ones who’ll be at a fever pitch to start the season with two divisional wins, and with the prospect of facing four of their next five opponents at home.
The most knowledgeable fans in the league realize it’s not just a new season, but a new era. Most of the coaching staff and much of the roster is new, and key front office people are only in their second year. Lambeau Field will be rocking come Sunday.
The Vikings front seven, led by DE Danielle Hunter and vile OLB Anthony Barr, are good, but they’re not at the Bears’ level. For example, Linval Joseph, a pro bowler in 2016 and 2017, is now 30 years old and – shades of Clay Matthews – he managed only one sack last season.
Best of all, the Vikes won’t have the motivation they or the Bears had last week in their first game – this time it’s the Packers’ home opener.
I’m pleased that almost no one has directed criticism at Aaron Jones following the Bears game. Even the best of rushers struggle when they are unable to get back to the line of scrimmage before getting belted. I expect the Packers to re-assume command of the line of scrimmage on Sunday, get a better forward thrust, and open up some running lanes – Aaron Jones doesn’t need much space, but he needs some. I’d like to see the Pack generate at least 110 yards rushing on Sunday.
Plenty of Stuff
A final consideration is the play calling. Shortly after the Bears’ game, I asked: “where was all the motion, options, and disguises we’ve been promised?” I still haven’t heard an adequate explanation, but Aaron Rodgers shed some light on the matter when he made these post-game comments:
“We didn’t get to a lot of stuff tonight because we weren’t very efficient. The more efficient we are the more first downs we have, the more opportunities we can to get to our stuff. The good thing is we have plenty of stuff for next week that we, you know, installed this week.”
It was subtle, but my read is that Aaron was messaging someone about the crappy offensive play calling. Efficient or not, the Green Bay offense had over 50 opportunities to inject a creative or unpredictable play or two.
Prior to Thursday, I felt LaFleur had about a 7-point advantage over Nagy “because for the first and only time in his career, the head coach’s specific offensive schemes and strategies are largely a mystery going into the Chicago game.” That didn’t turn out to be the case, as the head coach left many plays the team had practiced on the play sheet – he never sent them in. I don’t know why, and neither apparently does Rodgers.
Who knows, maybe LaFleur wanted to save his surprises for the first home game, and against a slightly more formidable threat than Trubisky and the Bears.
Adjusting to the Situation
Before leaving the subject of play calling, we’ve all seen instances when it’s obvious a team is overmanned in some area, as was the Pack’s O-line on Thursday. It had to be clear to even casual viewers that the Chicago front seven was utterly dominating the line of scrimmage, and this lessened only marginally as the game wore on. Jones didn’t even get into plus yardage until late in the third quarter.
But there are always responses and counter-measures that can be tried to help even the odds. Measures that could have been taken include screen passes, quick passes in the flat, quick slants to the masterful Davante Adams, draw plays, end-arounds, shovel passes, and reverses. When the middle of the formation is plugged up as thoroughly as it was on Thursday, why not try to spread the field by going outside the tackle on some rushes? I’d add that compared to the run plays of the Rams on Sunday, Green Bay’s movement off the snap looked like it was done in slow motion.
I’ve previously opined that something like a third of Aaron Jones’s runs should go outside the tackle. A review of the film indicates Jones’s 13 carries went as follows: into the guard spot three times, into the tackle area nine times, and around right end once. He earned every one of his 39 net yards. Jaamal Williams attacked the guard spot once, the tackle area three times, and left end once, for zero yards in 5 carries. Three of three screens were completed, but for only a total of 15 yards.
None of the 18 carries by the Packers’ running backs involved any deception, misdirection, disguises, or options. Let’s hope Matt LaFleur injects some “new stuff” into the Packers-Vikings contest.