Thursday evening’s win over the Bears was uplifting. It was both a team effort and an encouraging sign that there’s ability and potential in this assemblage of personnel.
The snap counts are in, and in most cases they verify which players seemed to be on the rise during a training camp and preseason that was conducted largely out of public view.
Starting with that sterling group of defensive backs, four guys were out there for all 73 defensive plays: Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, and Tramon Williams. Also providing solid play were: Raven Greene (56 snaps), Kevin King (42) and Tony Brown (27).
After one game, we can rest easily, as Darnell Savage is for real – an excellent usage of the team’s 21st overall selection. The coaches knew it all along, and now we know it: he’s electrifying. Amos was as advertised. Another pleasant revelation: 36-year-old Tramon Williams still has game. Kevin King (five tackles) looked good as he’s being eased back into action, and it’s telling that Raven Greene was entrusted with 77% of the defensive playing time. Everyone in the group was aggressive and even the tackling was sound.
On the defensive line, the TV commentators expected fatigue to set in, but the Green Bay pass rush just got stronger as the game wore on. Preston and Za’Darius Smith, in on all but one and all but six plays respectively, are marvelously fit 26-year-old athletes who can go the distance. They combined for 2 ½ sacks and provided continuous pressure all game long.
And by the way, for those of you (everyone) who dismissed the notion that Mike Daniels had a fitness problem, did you notice that the departed guard Justin McCray had the biggest gut on the team after Daniels was let go? Fitness and athleticism aren’t optional in the Gutekunst-LaFleur era.
The hole created by the injury to Oren Burks was nowhere in evidence. Pending film review, I assume that’s where Greene got most of his action.
It appears that it will be tight-end-by-committee this year for the Packers, with Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger vying for the permanent starter’s spot next year. Jimmy Graham made two crucial plays in his 35 snaps, Marcedes Lewis had two catches in his 34 snaps, and Tonyan made a big play in his 20 snaps – that’s 72 of Aaron’s 203 passing yards going to the TEs. Since there were 64 offensive snaps, that tells me the two-tight-end formation was utilized about 25 times.
The O-line had a rough night against the best pass rush they’ll probably see all year. Maybe they needed some rest, as Bulaga, Billy Turner, Linsley, Taylor and Bakhtiari all were out there for every snap. At least two of the five sacks of Rodgers, however, were not the fault of his blockers.
Unfortunately, those blockers didn’t open anything up for the running backs. Aaron Jones was out there for 38 snaps (59%), Jamaal Williams for 26, and Dan Vitale for 11. I expect the run game to steadily improve, and hope that Jones’ time on the field increases. My only question: where were all the men-in-motion, options, and disguises we’ve been promised?
The receiver situation will be sorting itself out over the next several games. Davante Adams of course was out there on almost all 64 offensive snaps – credit the Bears with holding him to four catches for 36 yards. Marquez Valdes-Scantling took 66% of the snaps, and had the game’s biggest play – a 47-yard reception made possible by the best play action and disguise of the evening.
Trevor Davis got 30% of the snaps and got free for an important 28-yard catch. Though I show Geronimo Allison as participating in half the offensive plays, he recorded no stats. Jake Kumerow saw only token action. The running backs accounted for only three catches and 15 yards. The pass game leaves a lot to be desired at this early stage of the season.
Aaron Rodgers is likely going to come in for a good amount of criticism concerning his 64 snaps. I believe he’s picked up several bad habits over the last few years, which he’s yet to address or correct. This isn’t a McCarthy-based problem or a LaFleur-caused transformational challenge. Aaron needs to get back to the fundamentals, to establish more self-discipline, and to adhere to the script. He needs to minimize the ad-libbing and pull the trigger.
Is it possible that the Packers came out of this black-and-blue-division encounter with no serious injuries? Things are shaping up nicely – following a 10-day preparation period – for a win over the Vikings. Congrats to Matt LaFleur and his coaches for a good start.
General manager Brian Gutekunst, who handles criticism with aplomb, has got to be enjoying this win. It doesn’t happen without Smith and Smith, Amos, and Savage.
This shouldn’t be thought of as an improving defense over Mike Pettine’s group of last year. It’s essentially a different formulation, as I believe six of the 11 starters are new. They showed the nation that they can be a dominant force in the NFL in 2019.