The Packers have been putting Jaire Alexander out on the offense’s right, Kevin King on the left, and Tramon Williams on the slot receiver most of the last two seasons. This allows opponents to dictate the receiver matchups – not the result you want.
Against the Giants, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine finally appeared to make a few changes, which contributed to the team getting some turnovers that sealed the win.
Early in the second quarter, QB Daniel Jones threw medium deep left toward Darius Slayton. Because Adrian Amos was guarding the deep left space, Kevin King was seen in a rare position: fronting a receiver. He broke nicely on the ball and made the pick look easy.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Pack ahead by a 24-13 score, Sterling Shepard, on a third and 18, ran a crossing route from the right side to over the middle – it looked like a copy of a route the 49ers used so effectively. Shepard easily left Chandon Sullivan behind him and was in a position to reach the first down marker, but Jones, with little pressure, sailed it over the receiver’s head and right into the mitts of Darnell Savage. An early Xmas gift!
Then with 6:27 left in the game Slayton raced past Kevin King along the left side, only to be quickly covered by Tramon Williams. Williams had the luxury of guarding Slayton closely, because Adrian Amos was backing him up deep. Tramon made a nice interception – his second in three games, but also only his second since returning to the Packers for the 2018 season.
Due to the coverage changes, Slayton and his 4.39 40-yard dash speed got neutralized. The Packers were determined to take advantage of a rookie quarterback who has been prone (though not recently) to throwing interceptions. By better controlling who was matched up on which receiver, the Packers were able to produce some needed turnovers – they are now tied for number two in the league in turnover margin (+11).
I’m not very aware of how often Mike Pettine resorts to man-on-man defense, as opposed to more of a zone concept, but maybe a pure man-on-man scheme isn’t the way to go with Green Bay’s current defensive personnel.
Lazard Emerges from the Pack
The Packers’ 6’5” undrafted wideout didn’t have a catch until Game 6, when he came out of nowhere to haul in four throws for 65 yards – without that performance the Packers don’t squeak by Detroit by a point. Fans hoped that a star was born, and over the next four games (mostly in Adams’ absence) Rodgers threw his way 19 times. Lazard continued to do all that was asked of him, though he was largely confined to short patterns, with his yardage never topping 44 in those games.
Like everyone else, Allen had no luck against the 49ers. But against the Giants, he showed he belongs in the NFL. It didn’t take long on Sunday: on the Packer’s second offensive play, Rodgers hurled a pass high into the snowy air, and Lazard made a spectacular diving catch, good for 44 yards. This big play got Green Bay off to the fast start they’d been lately lacking.
With a bit over a minute left in the first quarter, the Packers noticed the Giants were providing no safety help deep left. Lazard went in motion and lined up on the right, then streaked down the field, cut left sharply and was seven yards clear of the defender when the perfect 37-yard pass floated into his hands. Coach LaFleur had said during the week that the staff needed better scheming to put receivers in open space. This play accomplished that mission.
To state the obvious, Lazard has replaced Marquez Valdes-Scantling as Green Bay’s WR2 – maybe it should have happened even sooner. At any rate, we’ve all been saying the Packers need to get better if they are to go anywhere in the playoffs. Lazard makes the Packers considerably better than they were at the start of the season.
Lazard even made a nice solo tackle on the kick returner early in the second quarter. For the game, Lazard took 55 percent of the offensive snaps (37), as well as 45% of the special teams’ plays. A modest proposal: relieve Allen from his special teams duties, and get him out there full-time on offense.
Maybe I’m getting carried away (again), but I can foresee Adams and Lazard providing Green Bay as formidable a receiving duo as almost any team in the league in the near future. Lazard possesses all the necessities: size (6’5”, 227#), decent speed (4.55 dash) for one who almost could be viewed as a tight end, big wingspan, leaping ability (81st percentile vertical jump), good hands, and his route-running has been creating good separation.
I’m not suggesting, however, that they’ll approach the Buccaneers, who have Chris Godwin (1,121 yards) and Mike Evans (1,096) – with four games left in the regular season! Even with that firepower, they’ll be no postseason for these two Tampa Bay stars.
Avoiding the Sack
The Packers’ blockers helped to accomplish something unusual against the Giants: Aaron Rodgers went sack-free! The last time this happened was on September 22, against the Broncos. Before that, you’d have to go back to October 15, 2017. The Giants came into this game, and left it, tied for 26th in team sacks.
Having only mild pressure when in the pocket helped Aaron produce a fine passer rating of 125.4. He had not exceeded a rating of 86 in his three prior games. While the temptation is to assign the improvement to a weak opponent, with Rodgers that often is hardly a factor. For examples, his passer rating was over 100 against Minnesota, and was 129 against Kansas City.
Bulaga’s a Trooper
Much speculation concerned who would replace RT Brian Bulaga. When he re-injured his knee early on a week ago, substitute Alex Light had a rough outing. The only other alternative appeared to be to move Billy Turner to tackle and insert Lucas Patrick at right guard. Instead though, Brian was out there on over 95 percent of his team’s offensive snaps. He’s a warrior.
There’s also been quibbling over the recent play of center Corey Linsley, and expensive new acquisition Billy Turner has had his share of critics ever since his 4-year $28 million contract was announced. But at least for one game in snowy New Jersey, Green Bay’s blockers provided a consistent pocket for Aaron – a prime reason the quarterback looked like his old self.
I only watched the Pats vs. the Texans on Sunday night off and on, but it appears that 42-year-old QB Tom Brady is finally approaching his expiration date. His final stats, 24 of 47 for 326 yards, 3 TDs, an interception, and a passer rating of 85.9, are very misleading – I believe at one point he was nine out of 25. On the year, his rating of 88.2 places him 21st in the league.
Then again, people have been predicting Brady’s demise for the last half dozen years – but he keeps proving them wrong. Still, the NFL’s foremost program for going on two decades appears to be showing serious decay – though its defense remains formidable. The hot team in the AFC is Baltimore. Would you bet against the Patriots making it to the Super Bowl this time around?