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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.