It’s tough to be too critical of the Green Bay Packers in 2019. Fresh off the firing of longtime head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers started over with the hiring of Matt LaFleur.
By all accounts, LaFleur looked like a solid hire, and with Aaron Rodgers directing a hopefully improved offense, there was optimism again in Green Bay. Nobody really expected the meteoric rise the Packers have enjoyed in 2019, though, with an NFC North title and a championship run within the team’s grasp.
Yet, here they are, sitting pretty as the third favorites to win the Super Bowl odds at most of the best football betting sites online.
The crazy thing is that, despite their amazing success, the Packers seem like they’re not remotely close to where they could be. Green Bay has had an offense that has run hot and cold, a defense that routinely gets gashed by the run and general decision-making and execution that has kept the team from pulling away late in games.
They’re in the playoffs of course and are hypothetically capable of going on a deep playoff run. But so many issues have plagued them that they could use a quick look in the mirror.
Fortunately, a lot of their issues are correctable if they take action immediately. Here are the things the Packers could change right now to give them a serious shot at a Super Bowl run:
Feed Aaron Jones the Ball
It seems simple, but the Packers have had a weirdly difficult time committing to the ground game. That isn’t to say they aren’t running the ball, but it’s arguable they’re not getting their most dynamic weapon – running back Aaron Jones – the ball enough.
Jones is a far cry from his crazy 5.5 yards per carry average from his first two NFL seasons, but at 4.4 on the year, he’s visibly demanding the rock. Despite being the real deal – not to mention his tendency to create mismatches as a receiver – Jones has exceeded 19 carries just once all year.
In fact, Jones has topped 20 touches just four times on the season. He’s seen 16+ carries in just three games.
Part of that has to do with matchups and game flow, but it also has a lot to do with the Packers odd infatuation with splitting reps and getting Jamaal Williams field time.
That isn’t to say Williams is useless. He’s a better pass protector than Jones and he’s been plenty capable both as a runner and receiver. His ceiling is curbed, however.
Williams is of the plodding variety. He lacks any real explosion and when he’s on the field, the Packers feel less dynamic.
Jones is too talented to be taken off the field as much as he has been. Hopefully the Packers have been just keeping him fresh and are preparing for a long playoff run fueled by their best back. If they really want to go anywhere, that probably needs to be the truth.
Give Up on Jimmy Graham
The Packers invested some cash into the tight end position before last season, but the Jimmy Graham experiment was a failure. Keeping him in 2019 felt like a move to save face, but the results haven’t been much better.
Graham isn’t nearly as explosive as he once was, while his would-be elite red-zone chops have resulted in a lot of dispiriting failures and just three touchdowns.
It would be nice to suggest Graham isn’t utterly useless, but he isn’t bringing much to the table and certainly isn’t a difference-maker anymore at the age of 33.
Green Bay would be better off keeping Marcedes Lewis on the field for his superior blocking and/or allowing more athletic options like Robert Tonyan Jr. and Jace Sternberger more opportunities.
To their credit, the Packers have done that to some degree as the season has worn on. They need to just rip the band-aid off completely, though. The Jimmy Graham of old is no more and the middling waste of space they have on their roster is holding their passing game back.
Bench Geronimo Allison into Oblivion
You can argue Jamaal Williams getting meaningful snaps has value. Fine, I’ll slightly concede. Maybe you note that Green Bay is already slowly phasing the rapidly declining Graham out of the offense. It’s better, but not where it needs to be.
But you can’t tell me Geronimo Allison spending the majority of games on the field is a good thing.
The only encouraging thing about Allison’s 54% snap count rate in week 15 is that it was far less than Davante Adams and Allen Lazard. It needs to keep shrinking, however.
Green Bay has weirdly shown an affinity for the terrible slot receiver, who isn’t especially good at any one thing and is truly bad at the basic concepts of football. Allison defies all logic when he hauls in the rare impressive catch or even gets himself open, but he routinely bungles any perceived progress with atrocious drops or fumbles.
Lazard has climbed in front of him on the depth chart and needs to be a permanent fixture of two-receiver sets. Jake Kumerow is slowly eating away as Allison’s field time and that needs to be a faster progression moving forward.
Green Bay made the right call to virtually bench the far more naturally talented Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but he at least offers deep speed and jump ball ability. Allison needs to be next.
Tell Aaron Rodgers to Throw the Ball
This has been an issue for the entirety of Aaron Rodgers’ incredible career, but the guy really does hold onto the ball way too long. It led to an insane amount of throw aways in 2018 and when it goes bad, it leads to bad sacks, missed plays and even turnovers.
I get it, part of Rodgers’ weakness is actually his strength. But Rodgers can still tap into his arm strength, improvisation skills and deep ball infatuation; he just needs to pick his spots better.
Rodgers is exceptional at taking care of the football and seeking out the big play. However, his trademark playing style can be a hindrance when it operates outside the confines of LaFleur’s very specific system.
Not only is this offense built to run the ball, eat up easy yards on quick passes and set up the play action, but it simply doesn’t have the capable bodies Rodgers’ hero ball mentality lusts for.
Allison shouldn’t be on an NFL roster. Adams is not a deep ball maestro. MVS should be, but apparently he can’t catch. Graham is straight up washed.
Rodgers doesn’t have the tools to get the job done the way he prefers. That’s unfortunate, but the sooner he just accepts that and fully embraces this system, the better off this offense will be.
What needs to happen is Rodgers needs to take what the defense gives him, avoid bad sacks and get the ball out faster than he has been.
There is no denying that his guys don’t always get open and that chasing a bigger play is tempting. But for the Packers to get better and more consistent, Rodgers needs to be a lightning rod for that identity.
Stop Dropping Interceptions
There are several things wrong with Green Bay on the defensive side of the ball. Rodgers probably spoke a bit too soon when he said “we have a defense” after a week one win in Chicago.
He wasn’t completely wrong, though. Jaire Alexander is one of the better young corners in the league, the Smith brothers lead a solid pass rush and Adrian Amos has balanced out an improved safety tandem.
Green Bay’s run defense hasn’t been great, and they can offer up big plays at the wrong times, but overall this unit is better than it was last year. The main thing that set it apart early in the year was its aggressiveness and innate ability to force turnovers, though.
That hasn’t been happening quite as much lately, with the Packers routinely failing to fall on fumbles or dropping easy interceptions. Green Bay is still 5th in interceptions, but they could be first if their safeties and corners would stop blowing amazing opportunities.
Missing out on picks and fumbles hasn’t burned the Packers too badly yet. They did need a couple in that horrible loss to the 49ers, though, and come playoff time, these mental miscues simply won’t be survivable.
Some of these adjustments are small. Some are even obvious. Some, while surely correct, aren’t all that feasible.
The Packers’ roster is what it is at this point. Their schemes are their schemes. They really need to just do the best they can with what they have.
That’s fine, but there are adjustments, narratives or philosophies that can be avoided or tapped into to greatly enhance what the Packers have to offer. Rodgers gives this team a chance no matter what. He has a stud number one receiver, a running game and an opportunistic defense.
I just don’t think the Packers can get very far with the status quo.
Jones needs to be their bread and butter offensively. The offense needs to give Rodgers help by limiting negative producers like Graham and Allison. Rodgers needs to help himself by trusting the system. And the defense needs to catch/fall on the dang ball.
As Green Bay stands, they’re pretty good and perhaps slightly better than anyone wants to admit. I know they’re not blowing everyone away and they’ve been pretty inconsistent, but they’ve been getting the job done more often than not.
That makes the Packers a mild threat just by getting into the playoffs. If they do any of these things in an effort to play cleaner, more reliable football, however, the ending to this season could still be very special.