Packers fans have never in my memory had to endure the kind of roller coaster ride their team subjected them to in 2019. We need the bye week as much as the team does.
We’ve seen that the talent is there to make a run in the postseason. Having a bye week, and playing the next game at home and outdoors in January gives Green Bay fine prospects for getting a win in their first playoff game in three years. It’s truly one game at a time now.
The numbers of late don’t lie. The passer ratings for Aaron Rodgers for the last three games were 78.2, 68.3, and 72.0. I doubt that he’s ever in his storied career had a drought like that. We prevailed in these games due to a handful of clutch plays, but also because of inferior competition (Bears and Lions, a combined 11-20-1) and a Vikings team that was depleted by injuries.
Looking only toward the Pack’s next game, it at least won’t be against the 49ers.
Defense Is on a Roll
The best reason for fans to be optimistic: a defense that has improved mightily over the course of the season. This defense has become downright stingy on giving up points: 13, 15, 13, 10 and 20 over the last five games. Not only that, but the yardage they’ve yielded has been only 335, 262, 415, 139, and 304 – an average of but 291. Had the Packers been that stingy over the entire season, they would have ranked behind only the Patriots and the 49ers.
The credit goes primarily to the pass rush. Green Bay has consistently put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Smiths of course, but the supporting cast – Dean Lowry, Tyler Lancaster, Kyler Fackrell, and with Kenny Clark playing the best ball of his career – has also shown real growth.
Never mind the sack totals. In 2019, the Packers ranked just 15th in sacks, with 41. That’s three fewer than the team had in 2018. Opposing quarterbacks, however, had considerably less time to survey the field in 2019. Also, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was able to rush only four players most of the year, allowing for more players to drop back into pass protection.
It’s time for my monthly shout out to Blake Martinez. For the third consecutive year, he finished with one of the league’s two highest tackling totals. This time it was 155, surpassing his totals of 144 in each of his two previous seasons. Over the last five games, all wins, Blake averaged 9.4 tackles per game – while still recovering from a fractured hand suffered back in October. Against Detroit, Blake helped to lead the comeback with both a sack and a key interception.
LaFleur Is Starting to Get It
That blind spot in the head coach’s vision has been clearing up – Matt LaFleur is finally seeing to it that the ball is frequently being fed to star running back Aaron Jones. Duh!
The feature play by Jones was of course the screen pass with 45 seconds left against the Lions. This was a real-deal screen, with Aaron initially assuming a blocking role in the midst of the O-line. Rodgers, who I believe called the play, was focused on Jones, and he delivered a difficult sidearm strike into heavy congestion, and as he was falling down. Jones out-quicked the first tackler, then bounced off safety Tracy Walker, getting another ten yards, down to the 20-yard-line and in easy field goal range.
Football is often a game of inches – just ask the Seahawks. I wasn’t pleased with Aaron Rodgers taking a knee and losing a yard, rather than trying to gain a few yards up the middle, prior to the winning field goal. It turned out they needed every possible yard, as Mason Crosby’s kick flirted with the left goal post.
On the day, Jones produced 143 yards, 100 on the ground and 43 in the air. He had 25 carries and was thrown to six times, though errant throws caused only two passes to be completed. For the game, Rodgers’ inaccuracy probably cost Green Bay 100 yards of offense. But at least Aaron Jones finally got the usage he merits – and the amount he needs to keep getting if the Packers are to get wins in the postseason.
Check out https://aaronjones33.com/ for a glimpse into Jones’s “SHOWTYME” off-season training program.
It’s Time to Get Creative
Points have been hard to come by for the Packers’ offense over the last five-games – they have averaged under 24 points during the win streak. As the Lions proved, this is the time of year to bring out every play in the play book. Detroit’s first score came when QB Blough lateraled to Danny Amendola who swept to the right, stopped, and lofted a pass back across the field to Blough, who was left completely unguarded.
I’d like to see the Packers unveil either this type of play, or a pass by a running back. Bill Belichick resorts to at least one trick play nearly every game, and they almost always succeed.
Another play that should be considered is a designed run by Aaron Rodgers. Aaron has all but abandoned running for yardage this season, so such a play would be unexpected. Aaron has rushed for just nine first downs in 2019. In the eleven years from 2008 through 2018, he has always rushed for 10 or more first downs, including the two years he missed about half the season. Just last year, Aaron was good for 20 first downs by using his feet.
When is the last time you saw Rodgers fake a handoff to his running back and sweep around outside of the tackle? With so much focus on Aaron Jones, a “keeper” play of this type ought to be an automatic first down in a key third and short situation.
With two weeks to plan, and practice, for the next game, I’ll view it as gross negligence if the Packers don’t come up with some new offensive wrinkles for these playoffs. How about a Jones to Adams pass to get things going?