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Packers’ Trajectory Needs to Be Reversed Over the Next Six Games

The bye week break gives us an opportunity to look back and look forward, to analyze and contemplate, to fix what’s broken, and exploit what’s working.

The two-week break between games of course gives the players time to get their bodies and minds in shape for the six-game stretch run. Equally important, it affords the coaches time for detailed analysis, followed by making needed adjustments over the remainder of the regular season. Several fixes are essential if this team is to have much postseason success.

Packers defense celebrates turnover against Panthers

The inconvenient truth is this team has gone into a descent since the initial four games of the LaFleur era. In those four contests, three of which were played at home, the Packers averaged 338 yards of offense while giving up 330. In the last six games, the offense has increased its output to 368 yards per game, but the defense has yielded an average of 421 yards!

The best thing about the first ten games is the fine 8-2 record that was achieved. It gives the team the prospect of not only making the playoffs but also enjoying a bye week to start the postseason – and of one or more of the games played on the tundra.

But let’s not be deceived. Two of those games were against recently-inserted backup quarterbacks. Only two of the wins were by more than seven points. I also believe the Packers have intercepted a pass in the end zone in either three or four of their games this season – we can hardly rely on such good fortune continuing to happen.

Another stat to be considered is turnover ratio. As of Tuesday, the Packers stand at +9 on the year, second best in the league. The Packers have nine interceptions and seven fumble recoveries to date, while losing five fumbles and yielding but two interceptions.

Not far behind them in the turnover counts are two upcoming opponents: San Francisco is at +5 and Minnesota is at +4 – each had more giveaways than takeaways on Sunday, and because of it they almost lost games in which they were handily favored.

Turnover ratios tend to vary widely from year to year. While many turnovers are due to sterling defensive play, there’s also a fair element of luck involved. In McCarthy’s final two losing seasons, Green Bay ranked nineteenth (0) and twentieth (-3) in the category – this was despite QB Rodgers’ historically low interception rate.

Delving some more into the stats sheets, the Packers’ increased reliance on the run game is notable. To date this year the Packers have run the ball 41.1 percent of the time (243 runs and 347 passes). In 2018, McCarthy’s charges ran the ball only 34.2 percent of the time. Among the dividends this has produced, the Packers have enjoyed an edge in time of possession in eight of its ten games. Cumulatively, Green Bay has possessed the ball for 18 more minutes than its opponents.

Possessing the ball is a great way to exercise control over a game, stall the opponent’s momentum, and lessen the opportunities for damage that opponents with robust offenses can inflict.

Offensively, the Packers are 17th in the league in yardage produced per game, and 28th in yards given up. It’s highly out of the ordinary – almost freakish – for a team with such stats to be sporting an win percentage of .80%. In giving up 258 passing yards per game, the Packers are tenth worst, while their current yield of 128 rushing yards per game is eighth worst.

On the other hand, when it comes to points allowed, the Packers defense has gone from being ranked 28th a year ago (25.0 average) to currently being ranked 12th (20.5). This is another indication that LaFleur’s charges, while being statistically inferior in many respects, have managed to rise to the occasion more often than not when games have been on the line.

Given their below average yardage numbers, I’d say the Packers are immensely fortunate to be at 8 and 2. I’m thankful, but they must get better – and quickly – if they are to go deep into the playoffs. At least they’ve given themselves plenty of room for improvement, and I am optimistic they’ll move up several notches by the end of the regular season.

It’s doable. Though I feel the young head coach has an enormous blind spot when it comes to Aaron Jones, LaFleur seemingly has done well in most other phases of his new post.

It makes sense that a first-time head coach should only get better and more comfortable as he becomes acclimated to his new duties, and as he more fully grasps the strengths and weaknesses of his roster. I’m concerned, therefore, that since the team’s first four games, the team’s production has gone downhill. Let’s hope that a week of rest will rejuvenate the group.

Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur on sideline

Nov 10, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur talks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) before game against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Focus Going Forward

It’s great that LaFleur’s Packers are an opportunistic bunch, but Job 1 for this team over the next six weeks has to be to solidify its defense. Never mind the big plays, they give up too much ground on most plays. They bend way too much until teams invade their red zone.

Here’s a disturbing thought: despite the huge investments made this season for several top-notch defensive players, the Packers’ 6-9-1 group of 2018 handily outranked the current group in comparative defensive yardage yielded: 18th versus 28th so far this year. LaFleur’s guys have also enjoyed much better health than did McCarthy’s. This is both disturbing and perplexing.

In my next post I’ll discuss ways in which defensive coordinator Mike Pettine might rapidly shape up his underachieving defenders.

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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19 Comments

  1. Jason Parker November 18, 2019

    The 2019 red zone defense is quite impressive

    Reply
    1. Howard November 18, 2019

      The Packer red zone defense is ranked #4 in the league in red zone points allowed per drive. The Packer offense is ranked #1 in the league in red zone points scored per drive. LaFleur emphasized red zone in training camp. LaFleur also put the #1s on offense against the #1s on defense in training camp. I believe both of those moves by LaFleur made each side of the ball better in the red zone.

      Reply
  2. PF4L November 18, 2019

    Welcome back Rob…Excellent article and excellent points made.
    ***
    You couldn’t be more correct correlating team stats with their record. Some may say it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors and maybe it is. But i always believed, you are what your record says you are. So at the end of the day the Packers rock an 8-2 record and tied for the second best record of the league.
    ***
    I think the drop in points yielded per game compared with last season is more a product of Pettine, and Gute acquiring the Smith brothers than it is LeFleur being the head coach. I’m not there, but it seems that LeFleur (like McGravy) leaves the defense alone. Although LeFleur might have something to do with Pettine working the sidelines vs being perched up in the coaches box. What i do know is that a drop in defensive scoring of 4.5 PPG in one season is big and it’s the most important of all defensive stats.
    ***
    As far as the trajectory of the defense…it was finally turned around in the win against the Panthers. Lets hope it continues.
    ***
    Anyway…nice accurate perspective of where this team is at.

    Reply
  3. Kato November 19, 2019

    Per ESPN “If you’re looking to be optimistic about the Packers’ defense, I’d start with their schedule, as they played what DVOA deemed as the league’s toughest slate of opposing offenses over the first 10 weeks of the season.”

    Reply
  4. Mike Ditka’s Parrot November 19, 2019

    Fire LaFleured!! Packers wasting Rodgers. At least McCarthy won a Super Bowl. Trade for Dez Bryant.

    Derpitty do! Total TMZ Packers is for you!!

    Reply
    1. PF4L November 19, 2019

      If it isn’t a queen fan, it’s a bear fan, talking about Super Bowls. One fan has no clue about the subject, and the other feels like 1985 was yesterday.

      Reply
  5. Stiggy November 19, 2019

    I’m torn on this d…their red zone and scoring performances certainly arent flukes as they are consistently performing in a bend but dont break fashion.

    However against the best teams in the playoffs… I feel they need to play much cleaner if they want to sniff the super bowl.

    Also…stop with the photo shoots after every turnover…I dont mind celebrating but it’s gotten really annoying to watch..especially after Kyle Allen literally handed the ball to them.

    Reply
    1. Kato November 19, 2019

      I agree Stig. If this was a special defense, I wouldn’t mind. But they are middle of the road at best. Don’t get me wrong, don’t mind them playing with swagger, but this is over the top, especially since they aren’t exactly playing great football overall.
      *****
      I still maintain that Blake Martinez is good enough, and the real issue lies on the defensive line keeping the linebackers clean to flow to the ball. Is he not too good in coverage? Sure, but every team/unit isn’t perfect and there will be weaknesses. This is why the coaches get paid the big bucks to work around these things. You need two guys at least to be able to play the middle of the field. Someone has to step up besides Martinez

      Reply
      1. Howard November 19, 2019

        Anyone notice how often Dean Lowery has been blown out of his run gap responsibility. Lowery sure seems to be on the ground a lot on running plays. Lowery is some of the problem with the Packers stopping the run.

        Reply
        1. Kato November 19, 2019

          Yeah, he has probably drawn my ire more than anyone else on that defense. He has provided nothing in the pass game, not even sure he has a sack or pass defensed. Maybe a few pressures. His play has been very disappointing, especially after the promising season last year where he was one of the few decent players on a pretty bad defense. Packers are lacking the alpha up front on the defensive line and it shows every week. No one sets the tone in the front 7 besides the Smith’s

          Reply
  6. MJ November 19, 2019

    Nice read, thanks Rob!
    Yep, for deep playoff aspirations, that bend-but-don’t-break approach will not cut it, for various reasons. First, good offenses will take care of the ball, so fluky turnovers can’t be the bread-and-butter of the defensive gameplan. Second, the longer the D spends on the field, the weaker the passrush will become, which compounded by the huge holes in coverage we routinely leave is a surefire way of giving the other team’s punter a day off. Not just the passrush suffers the prolonged time on the field. The front seven gets tired and tackling effectiveness becomes erratic. And what about the offense morale, as they are forced to watch how their defense consistently yields yardage? After all, if we get a stop, the offense gets a long field to cover.

    Reply
  7. PF4L November 19, 2019

    I’m not slamming the defense, because i give them credit for their scoring defense improvement, but…..
    ***
    Once again….the bend but don’t break mantra was never uttered the first 3 weeks of the season (by anyone). It wasn’t uttered because it didn’t apply. The defense was shutting teams down and winning games. Things a Championship defense is known for. I’ll say it again…the bend but don’t break mantra is for a weak defense. Wasn’t that the mantra for some of Capers reign after the 2010 season? That’s what we want to hang our hat on? Bend but don’t break…i can’t handle reading it, or hearing it. It makes my skin crawl. It isn’t a compliment.
    ***
    A bend but don’t break defense eventually breaks, usually in the playoffs. But hey, i’m opened minded, i’m more than ready to be proven wrong.

    Reply
  8. KILLER November 20, 2019

    What I’m saying, Rob!

    Worst 8-2 team in NFL history.

    Need to give credit where credit is due though. Mark Murphy made a brilliant move when he made sure to leak that conversation with Aaron Rodgers about naming Lafleur the new head coach in which he told Rodgers, “Don’t be the problem.” He then denied that conversation, of course, but that was all to plan. He got Aaron Rodgers to knuckle under, toe the line, shut his mouth, and be a good little soldier and do as he was told. In short, Murphy was chemotherapy to Rodgers’ locker room cancer. Rodgers’ attitude is in remission! You guys owe Murphy for that!

    He played Rodgers perfectly! No one else was able to handle Rodgers. Now Gravyhead, no one. Only Murphy. He did it. Give him the credit he deserves. Now we know at least one person smarter than Rodgers. Even Aaron would have to agree with that!

    It looks like Murphy took Lafleur under his wing and Lafleur now also knows how to manipulate and control Rodgers. They have Arron totally under their thumbs!

    Reply
    1. PF4L November 20, 2019

      Stay in school kids.

      Reply
    2. Kato November 20, 2019

      I am starting to think lonely boy is an unemployed town drunk that gets blackout drunk every night

      Reply
      1. PF4L November 21, 2019

        I think the reason The Lonely Boy writes endlessly about bad teams, is that being a queens fan, he deems himself somewhat an expert on the subject.
        ***
        Kato…I can confirm The Lonely Boy is employed. I can also confirm that the edges of my McMuffins still don’t have the burnt edges on them that i like. I’m trying to be patient and non judgmental of people with “special needs” so i don’t bring it up often.

        Reply
        1. PF4L November 21, 2019

          As far as NFL standings…..
          ***
          It doesn’t matter if you start a season 5-0, and end the season at 8-8. You are what your record says you are. No one knows that better than a queen fan.

          Reply
  9. Gummibear November 20, 2019

    A bad 8 and 2 team. Huh??? I get the defense has been struggling. I also get the offense is having trouble on third downs. I get the point differencial heing too low. I am of the mindset though is to just win. I used to think the Pack has the most winsome fans. I don’t believe it anymore. The only W-word i see anymore with Packer’s fans is whiney The fans of the team always need something to complain about. I don’t care how they keep winning. I won’t start to worry until they lose week to week. I don’t care about blow outs.

    Reply
    1. Kato November 20, 2019

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you. I like convincing wins as much as the next fan, but the saying is “just win baby.” I think a lot of people here, myself included, have concerns with the defense and rightfully so. They have been among the worst defenses in terms of yards allowed, but have managed to keep the offenses out of the endzone for the most part. That is very unusual, and it is tough to keep up. I did a look at the defense before the panthers game, and they were allowing scoring drives on 50% of opponent possessions. That’s not good. They had faced what was determined to be the most difficult set of offenses in the first ten games of anyone in the league. These next six games will be important in turning it around and perhaps giving the defense some confidence

      Reply

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