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Packers Need to Exploit Their Hard-won Seeding Advantage

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.

Za'Darius Smith

Oct 6, 2019; Arlington, TX, USA; Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) and defensive tackle Montravius Adams (90) and middle linebacker B.J. Goodson (93) react to a missed field goal in the second quarter by the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. :Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hands off to RB Aaron Jones

Dec 29, 2019; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to hand off to running back Aaron Jones (33) during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

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?

Tags:
Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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18 Comments

  1. rebelgb January 1, 2020

    “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.”

    This is the key to success for all the top teams. San Fran is no better example. If you can put pressure on with 4 you are going to be good on defense, especially good at holding teams at lower point totals, which in turn means your offense only has to be average (see Packers 2019).

    No lets see if they can do it on the Frozen Tundra, they have shown they can do it on turf; unlike the 49ers who front 4 seems to be good at pressure with 4 on any surface in any weather.

    Reply
  2. Allen January 1, 2020

    Good article. The X factor is this:The GB O is very, very new and inexperienced overall outside #12.This system requires several high skill level players.At least 3 IMO. GB has just 2 AJ and DA. It’ll take 1 player from the TE group to emerge to that 3rd weapon and a little better consistent play from each of those not listed. Totally conceivable.
    My only question is did GB run out of time to gel? An Offense who can put up just 28-30 points average would make this team difficult to beat. 23pts won’t work against 49ers, Saints or Baltimore.

    Reply
  3. PF4L January 1, 2020

    Well done Rob….
    *
    What we’re (i’m) looking for is improvement over last year. Lets not get silly about winning Championships this season. It isn’t in the cards….sorry people.
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    Let me hit on the defense first. Credit Rob with using the words “pass rush and QB pressure” vs sacks. Compared to last season, sacks didn’t make a difference as last years team had 3 more sacks. It was the pressure, the caveat being it was pressure at the right times.
    Stat wise….the 2018 and 19 defensive stats are unbelievably almost mirror images of themselves (check it out) you’ll be amazed how close they are in almost every major category. If you are looking for improvement in those area’s you won’t find any…..except for one. Scoring defense, as i’ve preached all season.
    The Packers were ranked 22nd last season with giving up 25 PPG. The 2019 Packers rank 9th giving up 19.6 PPG. That is a serious improvement that should be respected. The one defensive stat that matters most at the end of the day. With that said, All the other stats being so similar, concern me. You’d like to see a reduction across the board.
    One last thing i want to touch on, Kenny Clark. He may have played the best ball of his career…particularly in the last
    4 games of the season. after the 1st game against the vikings, we didn’t see or hear boo from him until recently and that concerns me about doling out that lottery ticket. I’m not saying that’s the case, but we’ve seen that movie before.
    I think it was Howard who thought that Clark was getting more freed up to make plays because the Packers were moving around the Z Man giving the offenses different looks. That would make sense to me. Howard usually has that shit dialed in and that is more his wheelhouse than mine. So i defer to him almost always with analytical play scheming feedback.
    ***
    Offense coming soon as i have to prepare myself emotionally to write that. I may have to make sure i have tissues on hand. Yes, real men sometimes use tissues!! It’s going to be somewhat painful, but also realistic.

    Reply
    1. Howard January 2, 2020

      Thanks PF4L.
      Good article Rob. I have some more to say, but I’m still shoveling snow from yesterday.

      Reply
  4. NobodysBurfect January 1, 2020

    Good article Rob.

    Reply
  5. Mitch Anthony January 1, 2020

    * 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.*

    Rob, it has been a few years now since I really believed that. I hope you’re right and I’d like to think the odds are with them as far as a cold home field advantage is concerned but I just think those two factors are farther down the list. Having relative health going into the playoffs with the bye is bigger.

    I appreciate the analysis regarding the defense and I think we can be reassured that they will step up to the task. Offensive concerns are my worry. Hang onto a cold rock, don’t turn it over. Will the throws be accurate for this game? If they are, will the receivers do their part catching a cold rock, because a few have had problems catching in good weather (looking your way 80, 81, 83). Just how motivated can the coaches and vets get some of these young inexperienced players to go above and beyond. The last game had me screaming at the TV – throw to the tight ends more, convert first downs, dink and dunk, not every pass needs to be 40 yards downfield along the sidelines.

    We’ll see.

    Reply
  6. PF4L January 1, 2020

    The offense…..i don’t want this to be a novel. My objective is to offer things to consider.
    *
    Let me touch on things Rodgers can control…..his accuracy. I would say his over throws are probably half on him, and half on the receivers, but Rodgers has to own some of that. Throwing behind the receivers, when i see it, i feel sick to my stomach. Too many times, too many completions and yards are lost by throws behind the receiver, we’ve seen it all season. Completions are lost by creating tough catches, yards are lost mostly because the receiver can’t catch a ball in stride. That’s all on Rodgers and i don’t see a good excuse.
    ***
    Lets not bullshit anyone here. This is the worst receiving core since Favre put on a Packer uniform. Yes, it matters.
    ***
    Anyone paying attention notices there are more snaps under center, far less QB roll out plays, less QB improvising out of the pocket. I get that’s how LeFleur wants the offense to run, but it’s hard with this group to do that. Keep in mind one thing. Teams don’t want Rodgers to perform out of the pocket, for a reason. The reason being his 130 QB rating outside the pocket. THAT…..is where Rodgers thrives isn’t it? That…is where all those miracles plays developed isn’t it?
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    Lets touch briefly on all the bitching on off balance throws, throwing off his back foot etc. Is this something new with Rodgers? How many great plays has he made throwing the ball with the same bad mechanics. Go ahead and bitch about it, that’s cool….BUT….don’t fucking tell me in years past you weren’t jumping out of your chair praising Rodgers for making those same throws. Everyone has seen it and cheered it, from top team executives all the way down to your little sister…EVERYONE.
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    I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to do something for over a decade, then learn a new way of doing things and not expect a production drop off initially. Made harder……with talent depletion.
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    It’s no secret…the defense has been a priority for years…all the way back to when the first 6 picks of the 2012 draft were all defensive players. Since 2012, every first round pick the Packers have drafted, were defensive players, and 2 1st rounders in 2019. Then you add in the fortune that was spent on defense in free agency this past off-season. Who pays for all that? The offense does, and did. So just to keep it real and be 100% clear, the offense hasn’t been a priority to procure talent, sure as fuck not the receiver group…that’s not even arguable. So don’t hang that shit on Rodgers, he’s not the GM.
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    So, yea. Rogers hasn’t been the God we’ve came to love. But if i tell you to go out in the ocean and catch a huge great white shark, i’m not going to give you a rowboat, a musky rod and night crawlers to do it.

    Reply
    1. Deepsky January 2, 2020

      Guess what receiver leads the entire league in getting separation? Jimmy Graham. Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams are also ranked way up there. Somehow the ‘worst receivers’ are getting open.

      Reply
      1. PF4L January 2, 2020

        Those geek analytics are a one off looking for attention, but lets do this, find me someone else who has said the same thing (on their own) unrelated to the article. Link it to me, then lets talk.
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        Just because one yahoo writes a piece about separation, that gets you to puff out your chest? Anyone with any knowledge whatsoever knows that’s bullshit. That would mean we have one of the most talented receiving cores in the NFL, and Rodgers……just can’t find them…lol

        Reply
      2. Kato January 3, 2020

        Well, I wouldn’t cover Jimmy G either if he will just drop the ball, or in the case he manages to catch it he is so slow a defensive tackle will catch him

        Reply
  7. Ferris January 1, 2020

    I’d have Jimmy G practice catching balls on the bye week. Him catching a pass would be like a trick play.

    Reply
  8. Stickman January 1, 2020

    PF4L You are a profit of wisdom. Much of what you say run`s through my mind. Please tell me they are going to cut #83 and #81.

    Reply
    1. PF4L January 1, 2020

      TY Stickman….Call me a dreamer…but i’m still hoping MVS can be a 3rd or 4th. I only say that because he’s showed some flashes and value of what he could be. He’s cheap, showed some potential, has some raw talent and i’d stake my life he’ll be in camp next season. Will he develop into a valuable asset?….i have no clue.

      Reply
      1. Stickman January 1, 2020

        It seams to me that #83`s mind is not there, like he`s trying not to make mistakes. Maybe he`ll relax and become a good receiver, let`s hope so. But #81 I don`t know.

        Reply
  9. SCPKRFAN January 2, 2020

    Since Marshawn came back, can Jordy? He seems like a guy who keeps his self in shape. And harvest season in Kansas is over….just a thought.

    Reply
    1. PF4L January 2, 2020

      The last thing we need is a guy who……just scores a lot of touchdowns. I think it’s been proven that we were better off without him. Lets not question the experts. They signed his production replacement in Jimmy, then drafted 3 receivers. Lets put the blame where it belongs.

      Reply
  10. Deepsky January 2, 2020

    One thing the Packers have going for them going into the playoff is red zone efficiency….both on offense and defense. The Packers red zone offense efficiency is ranked 8th, which puts them only behind the Eagles in the playoffs, although the Seahawks are right there at number 9. The Packers red zone defense efficiency is also ranked 8th, which puts them behind only the Vikings.

    Reply
    1. PF4L January 2, 2020

      Yea…that’s pretty much been covered and then some, mostly by Howard and others.

      Reply

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