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Why the Packers Are Better in LaFleur’s Second Year

Not many believed Green Bay could match their sparkling 13-3 regular season mark of a year ago in Matt LaFleur’s second season as a head coach. But six games into 2020, it’s not a stretch to project the Packers going 13-3 again – or even better.

Taking a quick look at the remaining schedule, the only opponents that might be favored over the Pack appear to be the 49ers (Week 9), and maybe the Colts (Week 11) and the Titans (Week 16). Bears fans might take issue with this, but going into the Monday night game their two quarterbacks ranked 26th and 27th in passer rating (Trubisky was at 87.4 and Foles was at 80.4). In fact, Aaron Rodgers (2nd) is the NFC North’s only quality QB – the Lions’ Matt Stafford ranks 20th and the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins ranks 25th.

One key to LaFleur’s success has been that his guys have not let down against lesser teams. The only such failure by Green Bay came last season against the Chargers. Because most of Green Bay’s remaining opponents are inferior to them, just by continuing this trend they might well wind up the top seed in the NFC.

Why should we think the Packers are better than they were a year ago? Some of the obvious reasons are: that Aaron Rodgers has resurrected his game; the players are more comfortable in the schemes that LaFleur and Mike Pettine have in place; and, Coach LaFleur now has a better grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of his players.

I feel, however, that the predominant reason to believe the Packers have improved over last year is: depth. And one of the reasons the Packers are deeper than they were a year ago is that injuries have afforded the substitutes valuable learning experience.

While the Packers had remarkably few serious injuries in 2019, this year has been the reverse. Kenny Clark missed all or much of the first four games; Christian Kirksey has missed almost all of four games (and counting), Davante Adams missed almost all of three games; Allen Lazard has missed the last three games; several O-linemen, including Billy Turner and now David Bakhtiari, have missed games.

Most recently, Aaron Jones, Kevin King, Darnell Savage, and Tyler Ervin were sidelined against the Texans. Nor should we forget the loss of Lane Taylor, who injured his knee in week 1 and is lost for the rest of the season. That’s a huge loss of firepower – and yet these player losses were barely noticeable again on Sunday. LaFleur and Pettine have been masterful at tailoring their game plans according to the available personnel.

Players coming into the breach have included: in the defensive backfield, Will Redmond, Raven Greene, Josh Jackson, Chandon Sullivan, Vernon Scott, and even fumble-causing Henry Black; helping man the ILB slots have been Krys Barnes, Ty Summers, Oren Burks, and Kamal Martin.

On the defensive interior line, Kingsley Keke, Tyler Lancaster, Billy Winn, and Montravious Adams have all gotten considerable playing time.

Rick Wagner has provided capable relief to the O-line, including in the no-sack, one QB hit team defensive effort against the Texans. Jon Runyon has also seen some action there. Receivers Darrius Shepherd and Malik Taylor, and tight ends Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger have all made contributions when called upon.

Many of the above players are in their third or fourth season with the team. It looks like all that training and coaching has started to pay off.

Oct 25, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur jogs off the field after the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

PFF Grades

I checked in with the grading system of Pro Football Focus to see how they’ve been rating the Packers’ fill-ins. Full disclosure: most of the subs whose grades are not mentioned herein are in the bottom half of these by-position ratings, though not many are in the bottom quartile.

On offense, they have Rick Wagner, with an overall grade of 77.4, ranked 17th out of 77 linemen. Rookie running back A.J. Dillon, though not mentioned above, has a fine grade of 75.0 in limited playing time. Guard John Runyon also has a very decent mark of 71.6.

For the defense, quite a few of the subs have better PFF ratings than do the starters. Interior defender Kingsley Keke, at 75.5, is ranked 18th out of 122, and Tyler Lancaster (74.4) ranks 20th. Billy Winn and Montravious Adams, also have commendable grades of 64.8 and 64.6. Linebacker Kamal Martin, who played in his first NFL game on Sunday, received an excellent rating of 77.3 by PFF.

The biggest Green Bay disappointment, by far, on PFF’s lists is the injured Christian Kirksey, whose 31.9 rating has him in 77th place out of 81 linebackers. Krys Barnes, rated at 47.7, is better, though he’s still only in 54th place. Maybe Kamal Martin, the fifth-round rookie, will be the answer to our prayers.

While on this subject, the Packers do not lack when it comes to having top talent. Green Bay players who have the highest cumulative PFF scores at this point are: Aaron Rodgers (92.4, second best at his position); Jaire Alexander (90.8, 1st), Davante Adams (90.5, 2nd), Corey Linsley (90.3, 1st); and David Bakhtiari (89.0, 3rd).


Amid all of the criticism last season, I remained loyal to Blake Martinez – though I realized the Packers would be unwilling to pay him free agent market value, which wound up being $10.25 million per year. Now playing with the Giants, Blake’s overall PFF score is 79.8, ranking him sixth best out of 81 linebackers. As expected, his tackling total of 73 ranks second in the league, two behind the Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. PF4L October 27, 2020

    Yea….i’m not going to mention grades of players that don’t even have a games worth of snaps.
    I think the predominate reason the offense is better is the natural progression of learning the offense, knowing the plays, where to be, when to be there.
    The reason i mentioned the offense is that i’m not drunk enough to claim the defense is better.
    As far as Rick Wagner’s grade…i know two things…he got schooled at left tackle, then, rightfully so, someone removed him the next game and put him at right tackle, where he had training wheels (help) on the entire game. He’s a 77.4 grade and i have a 10 inch…..
    I respect PFF, but common sense has to take over sometimes.

  2. PF4L October 27, 2020

    Because i feel like i have to….
    5,262 cases of Covid in Wisconsin the last 24 hours.
    I go to McDonalds drive thru last night for a shake, which i rarely ever do. Out of 4 workers, 3 have their mask under their chins. (Kilian Management Services)
    Could i be anymore pissed off about all of this?

    1. PF4L October 27, 2020

      64 people died during that same time frame. When are people going to start taking this shit seriously? That includes restaurant owners and business owners.

      The Health Dept. should spot check restaurants and if they find workers aren’t complying, they should close them for 24 hours for each offence.

      1. Kato October 27, 2020

        No one fucking wears masks correctly. This country is embarrassing

        1. Deepsky October 28, 2020

          Or they wear the wrong masks. I repeatedly hear people claim masks don’t work, but if you wear rated masks and wear them correctly, they work.

  3. Big B October 27, 2020

    Performance of a guy Packers don’t have- Bulaga played all the snaps in the opener, then 10% of snaps, and 44% in game 3; hasn’t played since due to back injury. Good non-resigning, as were Martinez and Fackrell. Decisions will be tougher this off-season. Bahk is a must, then I think the Packers run out of funding. Jones loss is going to hurt but they can’t afford market price, and probably the same with Lindsley. King is too injury prone, would only sign if he’s a bargain, which I wouldn’t foresee. Should have had two additional rookies from 2020 draft to fill roles, but I gotta just let it go……..

  4. Ferris October 28, 2020

    Bye King…been nice seeing you on the sidelines. Sacrifice Linsley to keep Bak and Jones. They can’t let Jones go, he is a superstar.

  5. PF4L October 28, 2020

    The Packers top 6 in cap hits in 2021 are Rodgers, Z Smith, Adams, P Smith, Amos, Turner for a total of 102 million and some change. You’ll notice 4 of them are recent free agent signings. Like i said…they don’t stop getting paid after their first year
    That’s before you sign Bakhtiari and Jones. (estimated 25-30 million)
    Then after that, you still have to pay everyone else.
    Not sure they can let Linsley go, but how do you keep him if the salary cap is 190 million, or below that.
    I don’t think Gute has to worry about spending money on receivers in free agency next off-season, he blew his load of that money in 2019. Maybe he’ll do something off the wall bat shit crazy and draft a receiver in the first 2 rounds in next springs draft.
    Well…i don’t know, the defense needs attention (cough).
    I guess we should just hope he does something different in the next draft…..like ummm, draft a starter?

    1. Deepsky October 28, 2020

      One has to wonder if the greatly decreased sports revenue will cause more players to become available or cause the Packers to have trouble paying contracts.

      1. PF4L October 28, 2020

        I read someplace (only once) that the NFL was guaranteeing a cap of 190 million. That makes business sense in the aspect that teams can plan and there will not be a clusterfuck of confusion later for next year free agency and player contracts involving free agent status along with roster and new league year bonus’s at the beginning in March. This inclines me to believe the NFL is committing and guaranteeing a certain amount of team revenue, but i’m speculating.
        Obviously, revenue will be down greatly this season. One thing they can’t do is not have a plan in place. So teams can rely and business plan on a certain financial position.
        190 million signifies about a 8 million dollar reduction in salary cap. Meaning, it’s the equivalent to each team (the NFL) losing about 16 million in revenue. I think it’s much greater than that in reality and that’s why i tend to think the NFL is financially kicking in guarantee’s.

        1. PF4L October 28, 2020

          If that’s the case the NFLPA and the players should be grateful and appreciate the league is taking the financial hit and not sharing 1/2 of it, but i doubt they will be.
          I mean, Covid isn’t the NFL’s fault

      2. Stiggy October 28, 2020

        Nfl has to escrow guaranteed dollars. In other words…Rodgers money is already set aside. They will have no issues making payroll on current xontracts.

        1. PF4L October 29, 2020

          Teams pay the players salary’s.
          Player salary’s are determined by a percentage of revenue. If the true revenue was used from this season, the salary cap would be much lower than 190 million. Much lower
          Yes, teams still have to pay a players (guaranteed) money.
          Under the scenario of a much lower salary cap. A team could choose to either pay a player his contractual salary, renegotiate, trade him, or release him to get under the cap.

          1. PF4L October 29, 2020

            Of course, that is without the benefit of knowing the language used in contracts concerning “acts of God” or whatever term you’d use to describe the pandemic and what effect it has on revenue concerning contractual liabilities..

          2. Howard October 29, 2020

            PF4L, ask and you shall receive. Below is a link to a boiler plate of an NFL player contract. Additional attachments/addendums can be added for complicated contract such as Rodgers entered into. The below contract boiler plate takes care of most player contracts except signing/ roster bonuses.
            There is no force majeure clause in the contracts. There is a clause in the CBA, but it doesn’t cover pandemics. However, there are clauses in the CBA that do cover the pandemics.


          3. Howard October 29, 2020

            I forgot the language in the CBA as follows:
            “If one or more weeks of any NFL season are cancelled or AR for any League Year substantially decreases, in either case due to a terrorist or military action, natural disaster, or similar event, the parties shall engage in good faith negotiations to adjust the provisions of this Agreement with respect to the projection of AR and the Salary Cap for the following League Year so that AR for the following League Year is projected in a fair manner consistent with the changed revenue projection caused by such action.”
            Everyone including players are to participate in a salary cap reduction. I do think as you stated the owners are going to financially puff up the Salary cap to lessen the impact of the true revenue shortfall. The owners may ask for something in return at a later date, such as 18 game regular season(?).
            AR in the above CBA stands for all revenue.

          4. PF4L October 29, 2020

            Thanks Howard…i just felt like it’s nobody’s fault, so the fair thing is that everyone shares the loss. But the league (teams) is/are stepping up and basically keeping the players union and the players whole.
            It would be a nice sign if the Union and players acknowledged that fact and showed a sliver of appreciation.
            But the players will continue to talk shit about Goodell, and in turn the fans will boo him at every appearance
            Why should the players like Goodell anyway….it’s not like he guided increases in league revenue from 4 billion in 2001 to 15 billion in 2019.