Aaron Rodgers, notorious for not throwing to receivers who haven’t gained his trust, has been extraordinarily patient with third-year streaker Marquez Valdes-Scantling – but I can’t see this continuing for much longer. On Sunday, MVS was targeted four times without a completion. On the year, MVS has been targeted 34 times, but has only managed 15 catches. Not only that, but he and Aaron are not hooking up on any deep throws. In his last four games, MVS’s longest reception has been for 17 yards. The only reason he’s a starter at this point in the season, and in his career, is that the Packers are without better alternatives.
Meanwhile, GM Gutekunst continues to troll (in the fishing sense) the waiver wire. His latest effort, pursuing slot receiver Seth Roberts right after the Panthers released him, smacks of more desperation. Despite going undrafted out of West Alabama, Roberts hung on as a sometimes starter with the Raiders for four years, and then spent a year with the Ravens. The Panthers strangely signed him up this year for $3.75 million, but got a return of only four catches for 23 yards.
Roberts, who is now 29, had his best year in 2018, when he had 45 catches for 494 yards. The Packers might get some benefit from his experience in the league, though his acquisition is more a rebuke of MVS, Equanimeous St. Brown, and the other receiver subs than it is a positive move for the team.
Given the above, Allen Lazard’s recovery is critically important if Green Bay is to have any postseason success. There hasn’t been much medical news about Lazard since he underwent core muscle surgery in early October. A week ago, the Texans made a terrible miscalculation by attempting to guard Davante Adams one-on-one, but that’s an error that’s not likely to be repeated by opponents the rest of the season.
It has taken three years, but Jaire Alexander is currently more than living up to his promise. Opposing offenses are increasingly avoiding throwing anywhere near him. Chosen by Gutekunst as the 18th overall pick in the 2018 draft, he’s emerged as a true shutdown cornerback – and there are only about a half dozen of those at any given time in the NFL. Better yet, he’s only 23 years old.
I promised to be vigilant in watching for signs of Aaron Rodgers lapsing back to the bad habits he developed from 2015 through 2019. Despite the good outcome against the Texans’ weak defense, Rodgers was not nearly as sharp as he was in the first four games of the season. Six throwaways, several scrambles, and a fair amount of inaccuracy isn’t going to cut it against quality adversaries. In completing just 23 of 34 passes (67.6%), Aaron’s completion rate for the season now stands at 65.9%, which puts him in 20th place. Without the targets to Davante, Rodgers would have been just 10 of 18, and take away Davante’s 196 yards of receptions, and that would leave left just 87 for the rest of the team.
Expanding on the above theme, the Packers have been determined this season to convert on more third downs, and to score more touchdowns once they reach the red zone. To achieve these goals, they hoped to have more third downs with just a few yards to go. A good way to do this is to have a high completion percentage (for positive yardage).
Against the Texans, Green Bay converted seven of 12 third downs, and they went four of four in their red zone drives. However, that success was due mostly to a sublime performance by Adams, and despite a mediocre completion rate and several third-and-long’s. All seven of the third down passing conversions went to Adams. These include a 28-yard gain on a third and nine, an 18-yard gain on a third and ten, and another 18-yarder on a third and seven.
Six games into the season, the Packers have converted exactly half of their third downs, 37 out of 74. They rank fourth in the league, behind only three other winning teams, the Saints, Bills, and Steelers. In 2019, their conversion percentage was 36.1, good for only 23rd place.
The Vikings, who come to Lambeau Field on Sunday, are wounded and in disarray, and Coach Mike Zimmer is said to be on the hot seat after a 1-5 start. Coming off a 40-23 defeat by the previously winless Falcons, they would seem to be easy prey. However, they still have offensive talent in RB Dalvin Cook, WR Adam Thielen, and rookie WR Justin Jefferson. Pro Football Focus currently has Jefferson graded as the top wide receiver in the league.
Who the Vikes don’t have are two Pro-Bowl defenders: defensive end Danielle Hunter (out for the season) and OLB Yannick Njakoue (just traded). Also, in that Falcons loss they were down to using third-stringer Harrison Hand at cornerback. Against a much better group of defenders (relatively speaking), Rodgers ran up 43 points in the season opener.