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When the Stars Come Out to Shine

Here we sit, at the three-quarter mark of this bizarre empty-stadium season – and Green Bay is sitting rather prettily.

First off, its 9-3 record almost guarantees making the playoffs. More than likely, the Pack will wind up being the NFC’s #1 or #2 seed. Better yet, though, the trajectory of this team is on the upswing.

Yes, the Pack’s last two wins have been over below average teams. But in each of these two games, Green Bay won (ultimately) comfortably – by two touchdowns or more. What remains is contests against the Lions, Panthers, Titans and Bears. Might the Pack run the table once again?

Dec 6, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) stiff arms Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Michael Jacquet (38) during the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Man from El Paso

As to the team’s trajectory, the running game is rounding into shape. Against the Bears, the Pack averaged 4.7 yards per rush, on their way to 182 yards on the ground, and on Sunday they rushed for 149 yards in just 25 carries, for a 6-yard per run average – Aaron Jones averaged 8.7 yards on just 15 carries. This has happened despite a lot of injuries occurring on the O-line. If the Packers can get all their guys healthy – especially Corey Linsley, the league’s best center – by the playoffs, I’m hopeful that Green Bay’s ground game will be similar to when all its blockers were healthy – such as when they rang up 158 rushing yards against the Vikes in Week 1, and 259 against the Lions in Week 2.

The key to the run attack is of course Aaron Jones. In turning in his best game since Week 2, and his best run as a pro – his 77-yard ramble with under three minutes remaining – he reminded us that he can break a game wide open at any time. Jones is a consummate game-changer!

While I have never cared for the platooning that Coach LaFleur has elected to do, the upside is that, in contrast with many of his peers, Jones is relatively well rested at this point in the season. Through 12 games, he has rushed 147 times, and never more than 18 times in any game.

Compare this with the Vikes’ Dalvin Cook, who despite missing two games early on has rushed 251 times, including 32 times on Sunday – his productivity of late is well below that of his mid-season games.

As to the Titans’ Derrick Henry, he’s rushed 271 times on the year; in Sunday’s loss to the Browns, he looked tired and was good for only 60 yards on 15 carries. And how about the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott? He’s had 181 carries in 11 games, and he too is wearing down: in four of his last five games, he’s run for no more than 63 yards.

Jones gave every indication on Sunday that he’s gearing up for a fantastic postseason. Let’s not forget that Coach LaFleur’s philosophy is to first establish a strong run game, and then to complement it with a solid pass attack.

Dec 6, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Leader of the Pack

This brings us to the QB. In 12 games, he has had a passer rating below 107.6 only once. That’s tremendous consistency. He of course leads the NFL in passer rating on the year (now at 118.5). On Sunday he was around 150 for most of the game.

This might have been Aaron’s best game of the year. Of his nine incompletions, at least four were dropped balls (which would have produced another 100 yards or so), and at least three other throws were right on the money but were flicked away at the last moment by defenders.

As it was, his line of 25 of 34 for 295 yards, three TDs, and 128.9 passer rating serves notice that’s he’s tuned up for the playoffs.

Nov 5, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) reacts after catching a pass for a touchdown against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (41) and free safety Jimmie Ward (20) during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) celebrates a reception against the Philadelphia Eagles during their football game Sunday, December 6, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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The Beloved One

This leads us to the team’s third offensive superstar: Davante Adams – his name is said have an African-American derivation meaning “beloved.” He put on yet another clinic on Sunday: 10 catches in 12 targets, 121 yards, 2 TDs. Several of his routes and catches were spectacular – and undefendable. No other receiver in the NFL is playing on a par with Adams on the year.

When the postseason rolls around, it’s time for the league’s biggest stars to shine the brightest. Never mind the flaws and errors that were made on Sunday. They were more than balanced by the brilliance of Rodgers, Jones, and Adams. For this reason alone, do not sell this team short.

The Competition

Alright, the 2020 Green Bay Packers is not a super team. But there are no truly dominant teams this season – at least not among the 16 in the National Football Conference. We’ve watched a bunch of pretenders and wannabes fall by the wayside already.

The Cowboys were supposed to have the league’s best talent – but they are last in the NFC East, at 3-8. Many thought this was the year for the Vikings, but their record has dropped to 6-6. Even the Bears got off to a fast start, at 5-1 through Week 6, but they’ve since proceeded to lose six in a row.

The Rams were favored by many to win the NFC, but they have only managed to go 8-4. Seattle, a perennial NFC powerhouse, just got their clock cleaned, at home, by the lowly Giants, so they now also stand at 8-4 – and they are fading rapidly.

The defending NFC champs are the 49ers – but starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo has played in only six games on the year – they’ve now lost three in a row. Pending their Monday night game against the Bills, the Niners record is a shameful 5-6.

The only NFC team keeping pace with the Pack is New Orleans – and they’ve got an injured quarterback. Against the 49ers in Week 10, Drew Brees suffered “multiple ribs fractures on both sides of his chest and a collapsed lung on the right side.” He’ll likely be back before the regular season ends, but fractured ribs take considerable time to fully heal, and it’s difficult for a quarterback to protect his rib cage from further damage.

With ex-Packer Taysom Hill at quarterback, the Saints have kept winning, and now stand a game ahead of Green Bay at 10-2. The Saints’ remaining opponents are the Eagles, Vikings, Panthers – and they play the mighty Chiefs on December 20.

Summary

We didn’t have to wait until nightfall for the stars to come out and shine on Green Bay on Sunday. Flaws notwithstanding, with Aaron, Aaron, and Davante leading the way, the Packers have the star power, leadership, and veteran presence to potentially transport them to the Super Bowl. Though Green Bay suffered letdowns, or complacency, in the second halves of its last two games, they got going when the going got tough – and that’s what counts in the end.

Best of all, the team is improving, healing, and coming together at just the right time to launch a strong stretch run toward its goal. Add to this that the Packers have a habit of winning games in December, and I’d say this team is in a good place, and sitting pretty.

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Rob Born

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

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20 Comments

  1. PF4L December 8, 2020

    When you say the team is improving…what’s improving…our offense or our defense, or both?
    I looked back, i didn’t see much written about our defense.
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    What is the fuel that propels this team to the………… (gulp) Super Bowl?
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    Sometimes it seems we forget the fact that the Packers haven’t had to play the Who’s who of NFL teams, when we compare ourselves to other teams.
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    Yes…we can stand up tall on that mountaintop and pound our chest after beating the 31st and 26th offense in the league, but that alone doesn’t make you Championship caliber.
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    When is the last time the Pack beat a solid top ranked team? The hobbled 49ers? The Saints?
    I’d say the Saints, but we had to do so after giving up 400 yards and 30 points. The offense made a statement that day without Adams, the defense…..not so much.
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    We can look at our offense and say they are Super Bowl ready…and they may well be if the O line doesn’t duplicate what happened against Tampa.
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    Dreaming we have a Super Bowl quality team is one thing, earning it is another.
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    But….i’m willing to watch it happen :)

    Reply
    1. Robster December 8, 2020

      Let’s compare things to last season. In the NFC, I’d say, just off the cuff, that LAR, SEA, ARI, MIN, DAL, SF and NO (due to Brees injury) are not as good as in 2019. The only contending teams that appear improved are TB and GB. Is Green Bay measurably better? On defense, Alexander, Savage, and Amos seem to have improved. As to the linemen and LBs, Gary and Keke are better, while Preston Smith has regressed. I’d say there’s net improvement on the defense. On offense, the improvement is more pronounced. Adams is even better than before, and Lazard, Tonyan, and Williams are better. Most of the other starters are about the same. Aaron Rodgers, however is much better. Lastly, our head coach is better. Last year’s team made it to the NFC championship game. This team is a fair amount better – even without taking Rodgers into account. The competition in the NFC, however, is very definitely inferior to that of 2019. I’m not suggesting we’ll win the Super Bowl, but I do believe we’ll be in that conference championship game again, and that our chances there are loads better than they were against a very good 49ers team.

      Reply
      1. PF4L December 8, 2020

        Well Rob…i can’t argue much about Alexander, and i think Amos and Savage have really cut down on mistakes over 2019. Both have taken better angles this season and have reduced their over pursuit.
        I’m hesitant, but i’ll give you Keke and Gary. The reason why is they just don’t move the needle.
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        Lets not avoid the fact that interceptions and turnovers are down over last season.
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        Here’s where we disagree on defense…you believe there is net improvement. I believe there is net regression
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        There is one stat on defense….that is the king of all stats.
        It is hard for me to agree with you there is net improvement in this years defense over last years.
        Especially in light of the fact the defense gives up more than 5 points a game over last years defense.
        I really would like to agree with you…but then, we’d both be wrong.

        Reply
  2. Mick December 9, 2020

    Let’s not get too carried away with this 9 -3 season. We have one signature win against the Saints. Before the season started, the Vikings, 49ers, Texans, and Eagles were considered solid playoff teams. Well, all 4 have fallen on hard times. Some teams, (Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals and Bucs) have been struggling; as of late. We caught the Saints at the right time; (without M Thomas and a struggling Saints D). The Saints now have their defense running on all cylinders. I’d say we have been fortunate this season; for various reasons, to be in this position of having the 2nd best record in the NFC. Don’t get me wrong, I like where we are but, let’s save the super bowl talk after they beat a few of the teams that make it to the playoffs.

    Reply
  3. PF4L December 9, 2020

    Rob….if were talking about Stars coming out to shine. How the hell did both of us miss not bringing up Tonyan?
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    I was reminded of him in a response i just left to Cheese.
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    I’m thinking 41 catches, 500 yards, and 8 TD’s (so far), 87% target catch rate…. is a pretty bright star.

    Reply
  4. Howard December 9, 2020

    It always surprises me that no one when discussing a team brings up special teams? The Packers special teams are a very big problem when compared to other front running playoff teams, or any teams for that matter. I will hazard a guess and claim the Packers will be the worst special teams unit in the playoffs, and we know from recent observations that can result in giving up points.
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    I still don’t have faith in Pettine. I think the defensive players are near mutiny over Pettine’s conservative approach when playing defense in general and specifically with a lead. I do think the players are starting to have their voices heard, and I also believe LaFleur has been more emphatic with Pettine in the last few weeks. Maybe LaFleur and the players can bring the Captain Spears out of Lieutenant Dike (Pettine) for the rest of the season. One thing that occurred last year that I believe impacted Pettine was the Dallas game. The Packers had a big lead and Pettine was calling blitzes right and left. Pettine was in no way conservative. You could see from the broadcast that LaFleur, Rodgers and some other players were frustrated with the defensive play calling and wanted a more conservative approach. Pettine did go more conservative and I’m not sure he has changed much since, when the Packers have a lead.
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    Last years defense after 12 games played, was not that much better than this years defense, giving up only 15.6 less points over 12 games than this years defense.The 2019 Packer defense gave up an average of 21.6 points to the opposition’s offense after 12 games. The 2020 defense so far is giving up an average of 22.9 points to the opposition’s offense. Many forget the Packers 2019 defense in the final 4 games held opponents to low scoring totals dropping the Packers 2019 defensive scoring totals substantially. The same could occur this year. The problem being when the Packers defense meets a playoff caliber offense.
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    For those who question my defensive points allowed totals for 2019 (12 games) vs the 2020 defensive points allowed totals look no further than the Packers Special teams (with a highly unusual QB#1 pick 6), and the points they have directly allowed. The pick 6 by Rodgers is not common, but the special teams giving up direct points, and good field position to the opponents offenses is a disturbing trend this year that could result in a playoff loss.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 9, 2020

      I don’t question your DPA, but then you’d have to quantify all the other teams in the league under the same scope, thus lowering their scoring defense also
      Matter of fact i’d argue the Packers are in better position than most teams citing Rodgers low interception output. But maybe giving up some of that against special teams.
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      Because under an adjusted DPA. you have to adjust all the other teams DPA also. I subscribe to the just K.I.S.S method of Def. scoring.
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      People have brought up special teams the last 9 years, i bring it up occasionally. The only reason i don’t bring it up more is because it NEVER changes. I think others might not bring it up because of the same, or that it’s a small segment of the game.
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      Everyone seemed high on Tyler Earvin, giving us life in the return game. Patting Gute on the back as a great acquisition because of it. It damn near made me ill just to read it.
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      Tyler Earvin is horrible. Darius Shephard had better return numbers, by a sliver….but better.
      There is a reason they went out and signed Tavon Auston off his couch.
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      And lastly, maybe fans feel disheartened…if the GM won’t even address a big positional need as far receivers, is he or LeFleur going to make improving special teams a priority?
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      In another world….what nobody talks about (sans Rob occasionally)…is point differential
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      Howard….we have talked, or i have about what kind of defense it takes to get to a SB. Here is another stat that is partially related to that, which tells a story. I haven’t finished it, but i started working on analyzing SB winning teams regular season point differential.
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      So far i went back about 21 years, and 76% of the teams had point differentials of +(99)100 or greater. Right now without double checking, i think the Packers are at +80 with 4 games to go.
      There are 2 teams that won the SB with a very low, even a negative point diff. and 3 teams a fair amount below 100. Great defense? Any given Sunday…..
      2006 Colts – +67
      2007 Giants – +22
      2011 Giants – -6 (minus 6)
      2012 Ravens – +54
      2015 Denver – +59
      Those teams definitely have something in common.
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      The 16 other SB winners had point diff ranging from +99 – +284
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      As you might have guessed, amazingly…in the past 21 seasons, the Patriots have the most +99 point diff. games than any other team with 18.

      Reply
      1. Howard December 10, 2020

        I will keep this short to not offend someone. I like your review of point differential. It reminded me of the 2006 Colts. I remember all the pundits were saying before the 2006 playoffs that the Colts defense would get them beat. If I recall a safety named Sanders(?) came back from an injury just before or during the playoffs and the defense took off at the right time. You could say the same happened with both of the giants defenses in 07 and 11. Those defenses were not that good during the regular season and then they took off in the playoffs at both the Packers and Patriots expense. I liked Coughlin as a head coach.
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        Below is a link to a site that keeps many stats. They do keep stats for DPA on all teams. I kept the link on DPA, but you would probably be interested in several of the other stats they keep. The site is great because you can also compare with past years, and even the weekly changes in each year. This site is were I get my points per play(1) :-) and points per play margins(6) :-), and opponents points per play (26) :-( stats.
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        https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/opponent-offensive-points-per-game

        Reply
        1. Howard December 10, 2020

          Is it just me or did Ferris’s comment disappear?

          Reply
          1. Jason Parker December 10, 2020

            Server issue. Here it is:

            Wow…each comment on this is an article itself. The facts are simply this…Green Bay has the ability to outscore any team so could win the Super Bowl. They also have the ability to only score 3 against Tampa and lose to the Vikings. The Colts game they gave away so I do not count that one. The hope is they somehow make it to the bowl by getting the right playoff matchups but someone knocks off KC and Pittsburgh along the way. One possibility is…Super Bowl Champs . Another possibility is first round playoff exit. As much as it pains me to say it…they could lose to the Giants in the playoffs. I hope not…but it could happen.
            Could be worse though…we could all be Cowboys fans and have to worry McRib will be roaming the sidelines for 4 more years.
            Also why has nobody focused on how much Rodgers has improved after dumping Danica? I think she was a planted saboteur.

            Reply
          2. PF4L December 10, 2020

            I’ll keep this short to not offend someone.
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            The server was right.

            Reply
          3. PF4L December 10, 2020

            Here’s the thing Howard.
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            I just never bought into the “adjusted stats” analytics. Maybe it’s because i’m not smart enough to understand them, maybe it’s because i don’t want to be smart enough to understand them. Maybe it’s because it involves the stats under “IF” scenario’s which i can’t stand (most likely).
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            I’m not saying adjusted stats aren’t legit or valid. I’m not saying people who use it are foolish.
            What i’m saying is ….for me. The General stats available are all i need…that and my own eyes.
            I watch the NFL for fun, i love it!!
            If i try to break it down like a scientist in adjusted analytics. It takes the fun out of it for me.
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            I just don’t care if a team has a pattern of not scoring in the 3rd quarter against teams with an above .550 winning percentage against teams on the road, whenever the temperature is under 40 degree’s fahrenheit and when winds gust at over 15 mph and the sky is mostly cloudy.
            I exaggerate, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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            A NFL game is won or lost based on two simple variables…Points for….points against.
            If a team doesn’t score enough points, i don’t need to analyze why. I watch the game.
            If a team allows too many points, i don’t need to analyze why. I watch the game.
            Anything i need to know past that, is answered in basic stats, like sacks, rankings, YPC, target catch percentage’s, starts, snaps, FF’s, QB hurries, etc,etc,etc,etc.
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            For those who enjoy adjusted stats. God bless you. If it’s part of your fun, then rock on.
            As i noted earlier….my viewpoints are…..”for me”
            I’m not downgrading others who feel different

            Reply
          4. Howard December 10, 2020

            To each his own. I watch the games and NFL also. When I see direct scores allowed by special teams, or the offense (turnover) I remember, and try not to put those on the defense, and then try to claim the defense is given up more points per game than they really are giving up. Just like when I see direct scores by the defense, or special teams (never with Packers) I remember and don’t attribute those to the offense.
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            It really isn’t adjusted stats it is attributing points to the group that directly produced or gave up the points. It gives you a true view of how many points each of the three phases are producing or giving up. Adjusted stats would be if you started trying to take points away from the defense when the offense just turned the ball over on the one yard line, allowing a one yard drive for seven points, when they should have held for 3 or 0 points. In that case it is on the defense to stop the opponent. The same would be true if the tables were turned on the offense, and the offense only had a one yard drive to score points. The offense scored the points.

            Reply
  5. Mick December 9, 2020

    Ya, I’m sick of watching Pettines’ prevent/ bend but don’t break defense. We have an above average grade secondary and Pettine prefers to line up those DBs’ and safeties playing 10 to 15 yards off the opposing receivers. As long as I remember, Pettines scheme is no different than what Capers used. Like I’ve mentioned before, when the Packers build up a lead by a couple of scores——— Pettine reverts back to rushing 3 and dropping 8 into coverage. They still can’t stop the opponent from marching up and down the field. The last couple of weeks we have seen more times when they rush 4, and have had better results. Howard is right on with the special teams analysis. When was the last time we had a good special teams unit? We’ve changed coaches, schemes, and personnel groupings, and the result is the same. I’m going to borrow PF4Ls’ term for special teams,,,,,,, BROKEN!

    Reply
  6. Jason Parker December 10, 2020

    Had an issue with the server and needed to restore a backup.

    Ferris made the following post that was removed after recovering the backup:

    Wow…each comment on this is an article itself. The facts are simply this…Green Bay has the ability to outscore any team so could win the Super Bowl. They also have the ability to only score 3 against Tampa and lose to the Vikings. The Colts game they gave away so I do not count that one. The hope is they somehow make it to the bowl by getting the right playoff matchups but someone knocks off KC and Pittsburgh along the way. One possibility is…Super Bowl Champs . Another possibility is first round playoff exit. As much as it pains me to say it…they could lose to the Giants in the playoffs. I hope not…but it could happen.
    Could be worse though…we could all be Cowboys fans and have to worry McRib will be roaming the sidelines for 4 more years.
    Also why has nobody focused on how much Rodgers has improved after dumping Danica? I think she was a planted saboteur.

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 10, 2020

      So….. the anything’s possible theory.
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      I should go buy my powerball tickets for Saturdays drawing.
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      I kind of figured that Danica chic was planted. I’m surprised i didn’t think of that at the time.

      Reply
      1. Ferris December 10, 2020

        I’m saying there’s a chance.

        Reply
          1. PF4L December 10, 2020

            disregard, i fucked this up, and it was the perfect set-up….sob

            Reply

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