The resounding win over the Vikes was just what the doctor ordered. In the two prior playoffs, Green Bay was consistently accorded underdog status, but the team has now served notice it’s the top dog – the favorite to win it all. This is the first time I’ve felt relaxed during a Green Bay game in about two years.
Congratulations are in order, from top to bottom, to the whole Packers organization. That’s right it was Mark Murphy who hired Brian Gutekunst. It was Brian who assembled this formidable roster – and who continues to keep tweaking it. It was Rodgers who carried the club through the 5-win stretch drive. And it was De’Vondre Campbell, Rasul Douglas, and all those second- and third-string O-line fill-ins who plugged up the fissures. All the players are aware that their biggest hurdle remains. But they have proved to be the best in their division and the best in the NFC, and that merits a big celebration.
We now even have reason to believe that the special teams deficiencies are getting fixed. Let’s start there, and then touch upon the many other positives that emerged on Sunday.
By constantly trying to make personnel upgrades, and by staying the course with Mason Crosby, GM Gutekunst has things looking up. Though kicks go for shorter distances in wintry conditions, Mason put most of his kickoffs into the end zone, and was accurate on his place kicks. Newcomer David Moore looked solid on punt and kick returns, including the taking of fair catches. A Round 7 pick by the Seahawks in 2017, he’s since been with the Panthers, Raiders, Broncos, and now the Packers.
In each of the Vikes’ three kick returns, there were plenty of tacklers surrounding the returner.
Gutekunst undoubtedly had a game just like this one in mind when he selected the 250-pound A.J. Dillon in the second round in 2020. Fans got a glimpse of the future last season in Week 16 when A.J. outplayed the Titans’ Derrick Henry, with 124 yards and two TDs in 21 carries.
The idea that Dillon could protect leads late in the games, and especially so in wintry weather was borne out against the Vikes. As A.J. plowed his way to 63 yards on 14 carries, you could see the Minnesota defense deflating. The success of platooning Dillon and Aaron Jones was on full display, as Jones added 76 yards on just eight carries. On the year, Jones has 799 rushing yards and 391 receiving yards; Dillon has 740 and 309. Jones ranks 16th in rush yardage, and Dillon ranks 24th.
It now appears to me that Jones had earlier been playing at less than full strength, but now he’s healthy – and at just the right time. The duo also caught seven of nine throws, good for 50 yards. That strategy needs to continue throughout the playoffs.
I think it says a lot about the team-first attitudes of these two guys – they could individually be having much superior statistical years, as the featured back on another team. This platooning costs each any chance of being named an All-Pro. We’ll have to wait and see if both are retained by Green Bay for 2022.
The cupboard of receivers is about as bare as it can get, yet it doesn’t seem to matter. Against the Vikes, Davante Adams and Allen Lazard combined for 17 catches for 208 yards, which comprised over two-thirds of the Pack’s 307 passing yards. Much of the rest came from the running back duo. I keep hoping that someone else will step up, or get healthy, but it hasn’t been the case for St. Brown, Deguara, Davis, Winfree, Dafney, Malik Taylor, or Amari Rodgers. Thank God for Adams! There are some other players to consider. Lazard is having a fine late season. Valdes-Scantling has his moments, and is valuable simply for being a deep threat. I do expect that Randall Cobb will be back for the playoffs.
Given Rodgers’ quality of play, this lineup will probably serve the Packers’ passing needs adequately.
Every time Aaron faithfully adheres to a quick-throw regimen, good things happen. He did so against Minnesota, and he’s tended to do so ever since he had the toe fracture. One result of his quick and disciplined passing was a second straight no-sack game. This is one of the less-appreciated reasons why the team’s injury-riddled offensive line has exceeded all expectations. Aaron stands at 27 sacks on the year, which is about where you’d like him to be.
In his first post-game comments, Matt LaFleur gave indications that his starters would not play much against the Lions. He has since backtracked on that notion, though I still doubt that many starters will play beyond the first quarter. Since the Pack has now secured a bye during the first weekend of playoffs, that means the team will have almost three weeks to get healthy before they have their first playoff outing.
Will all of that healing and rest time be enough to have Jaire Alexander, David Bakhtiari, Za’Darious Smith and/or Josh Myers available? It should at least be enough time to get Cobb back, and provide healing time for Aaron’s bad toe. Given this is a 17-game season, the Packers should be more well-rested than other teams who get no break at all between the regular season and the postseason.
It’s quite conceivable that the Packers and Bucs will meet in the Super Bowl game. Winners of six of their last seven, Tampa Bay and Brady are on a hot streak. I mention this because the Bucs suffered a loss on Sunday – though not in the win/loss column. Despite never leading until under a half minute remained, the Bucs managed to get past the 4-12 Jets.
The loss I’m referring to is that of Antonio Brown. While many might not regard this as a major setback, the (former) 33-year-old NFL bad boy has been a valuable weapon on the field for the Bucs. In playing in only seven games this season, and starting in only three, the COVID paperwork forger still managed to catch 42 of 62 throws by Brady, and for 545 yards (13.0 ypr) and four TDs. Brown also had a touchdown reception in the Bucs’ Super Bowl victory last February. Brady has lost one of his favorite targets.
Antonio could put enormous stress on a defense; he still has enough speed to go deep, and he has the quick moves to be a great red-zone and end-zone target. However, we won’t be seeing him on a football field anytime soon.
Rodgers’ all-time low interception percentage is by now legendary – as it should be. Even so, this season has been one for the ages. Aaron now stands at 35 touchdown throws and four interceptions. Not counting his three seasons as a backup, he has only thrown fewer than four interceptions once in 14 years: he had only two Int’s (and 25 TDs) in the team’s 6-9-1 2018 season. He hasn’t been picked since Week 10.
As if that’s not enough, Rodgers has only fumbled three times this season, and none were recovered by the opposition. This turnover stat might be almost as incredible and rare as Aaron’s interception stats. Tom Brady, for example, has lost three fumbles this season. Patrick Mahomes has fumbled nine times, and lost four of them. In addition to everything else, Aaron is the all-time ball security king of the NFL.
The media has been following Matt LaFluer’s win/loss record all season. After his team’s latest win on Sunday, Matt now stands at 39 regular season wins and nine losses as an NFL head coach. This eclipses the 38-10 regular season record that the 49ers’ George Seifert established from 1989 through 1991 in his first three years as an NFL head coach.
You’re probably also familiar with the fact that in his three years as HC, LaFleur’s teams have yet to loss two consecutive games (in the same season). I’m not sure if that’s a record, though Seifert did lose twice in a row in 1991. Regardless, it’s an example of LaFleur’s remarkable consistency and stability as the team leader. And remember, LaFleur took over a team coming off of two losing seasons in a row. By contrast, Seifert inherited a team that was the defending Super Bowl champ.
Yes, Matt is truly a one of a kind head coach.
A side benefit to the Pack securing the NFC’s top seed is that Jordan Love should get the majority of the snaps against Detroit. We’ll see if he improves upon his performance against the Chiefs in Week 9, when he went 19 of 34 for 190 yards, and with 1 TD, 1 Int, and 1 sack. Against the Vikings he got in for one drive, began with two nice completions, and then had two poor throws that were short of the receivers – I think he started aiming instead of flinging. Still, he looked comfortable in the pocket, and found the open receivers. He also made a good decision by breaking out of the pocket on a third and ten, and then slipping a tackle to barely reach the first down marker.
It looks like it will mainly be Love versus Tim Boyle in Detroit.
I’ve watched a lot more non-Packers NFL games than usual this season. What has most amazed me is how prone to senseless penalties most teams are. Especially from inside the opponent’s 5-yard line, I’m continually seeing flags thrown for false starts, illegal shifts, and man-in-motion violations – these usually lead to field goals rather than touchdowns.
On the defensive side, how many times have you seen incompletions or interceptions nullified by off-sides or roughing the passer penalties? I can recall a few times Packers opponents have kept drives going due to roughing the passer flags, but in most cases the roughing calls were questionable. Such penalties often lead to games being lost that should have been won.
This led me to take a glance at some penalty statistics. To date this season, I see that Green Bay has had 19 pre-snap penalties – that’s seven fewer than the next closest team; six teams are in the 40’s.
Overall, Green Bay is listed as having 68 penalties called against them so far this season (not including offsetting or declined penalties). Once again, Green Bay leads the league (by just one) in fewest penalties. By comparison, the Cowboys have had the most penalties,122, called against them.
Yardage-wise, the Packers have had 678 yards marched off against them – that’s the sixth lowest in the league. In contrast, Las Vegas, Dallas, and San Francisco have each been penalized over 1,000 yards.
What this suggests to me is that the Packers have been well trained and coached to minimize penalties. It also seems that Packers players keep their emotions more in check, and play with more discipline and precision, than most teams. If so, that’s once again a great credit to LaFleur and his coaching staff.
I can guarantee the Packers and Bucs won’t meet in the Super Bowl. That being said, they will likely meet in the playoffs again. Some folks are saying the Bucs are not the same team this year. Don’t buy it. The Bucs are struggling because of injuries, especially on the defensive line, but they get a lot of guys back for the playoffs. Rodgers ALWAYS has had trouble against Bucs. He threw 5 picks last season, 2 of them against the Bucs, then had another in the playoffs, which means half if his picks last year came against the Bucs. The Bucs offensive and defensive lines dominated the Packers last year and will do so again in the playoffs as the Packers have declined in those areas. It doesn’t matter that Godwin is out, Brady, unlike Rodgers will pass the ball to the receiver being covered by the weakest Packer, whether he “trusts” them or not, which is what makes Brady a winner.
Good article Rob. To clarify one other thing from the article. Dillion and Jones will both be back together next year barring injuries. Dillion is on his rookie contract, and It would cost the Packers more in dollars to trade Jones than to keep. As we have discussed on this site The contract signed by Jones and the Packers was really a two year contract. After next year something would need to happen with the Jones contract.
Last week there was a lot of negative waves after a win over a depleted Browns team. This week after a win over a depleted Vikings team… Crazy… I mean like, so many positive waves… maybe we can’t lose, you’re on! I am usually a positive person, but I tended to agree with more of your assessment from last week.
I know you kind of hit on it when you discussed Jones and Dillion and you briefly mentioned their receiving yards. I think you should have added Jones and Dillion in your paragraph on Rodgers targets. Jones has been targeted 65 times with 52 catches, 80% catch percentage. Dillion has been targeted 36 times with 33 catches, 91.7% catch percentage. The two together have 85 catches. That to me is a receiving target. In some ways I wish Rodgers would target both more often. They have both proved they can catch the ball well and can be weapons in the open field. Both have different traits after catching the ball, just as they have as ball carriers. We have always known that Jones is a very good receiver and can get yards after the catch. Dillion probably has as good of hands as Jones. The difference is Dillion when he catches the ball out of the backfield reminds me of Lacy in 2014. It has to make DBs pucker with Dillion running full speed at them after a catch. It would not surprise me to see LaFleur put Jones and Dillion on the field together more often in the playoffs. They both can be weapons in the run and pass game. In addition together they can grind out wins through the ground and air.
So, if the Bucs and Pack meet in the conference championship game, the betting might be at even money. As for Chris Godwin, he was Brady’s top target (1,103 yards), but is gone for the rest of the season, and probably for a portion of next season, due to an ACL injury. Brady will now have to look to Mike Evans (946) and Gronk (665). Unlike GB, the Bucs rely on the pass almost exclusively – they currently have 5,057 passing yards but only 1,587 rushing yards, while GB is at 4,254 and 1,778. Evans, the seventh overall pick in 2014, has seen his yardage go down in each of his last three years, and he’s no longer being accorded All-Pro status. Unlike Davante Adams, who is a year older, it appears that Evans has passed his prime.
In reply to Howard, I too have repeatedly begged LaFleur to throw more to his RBs. He seems to now be doing that, as the duo had 3 catches vs. Bears and Ravens, then 8 against the Browns, and now 7 against the Vikes. For Dillon to have a catch percentage in the nineties is astounding. Boston College should be regretting getting him only 21 catches in three years there. I’d also agree that GB should employ more two-running-back formations.- maybe they are saving that surprise for the playoffs?
Good article Rob. You might have a point about saving the 2 back set for the playoffs. Jones has been getting stronger the last few games and Dillon has proved to be dependable. Also, both have been used rather sparingly throughout the season and should be fresh and strong for the playoffs. Still, I would like to see more of a commitment to the ground game in the red zone. Successfully pounding the ball inside the 5 yard line demoralizes a defense, especially in the 2nd half of games.
I’m beginning to feel more confident about this than at any point during the season. Before I thought that the home field advantage thing had gone by the wayside for a bit but the crowd and the weather could be nice things to have on your side. Bring in a team with with players that have never really played outside of warm or dome venues and some of these guys will feel like they’re on the Shackleton Expedition when they play outdoors in January at Green Bay. Watching the Vikings game, they were depleted and not expected to win, but they looked downright miserable. Like Howard mentioned in an earlier thread, it seemed like Dalvin Cook just gave up early.
A couple rays of sunshine from the ST unit have come through so they should continue better play in the unit. Worries are easing here.
If just a few, a couple, of the previously injured to contribute down the stretch, it could be very good. Alexander returning could be great.
I’d like to see the Packers play Rodgers for at least a few series against the Lions and put in a whole bunch of crazy plays that teams will have to prepare for in the playoffs. Like using Cobb as a quarterback, or a fake punt, or a wildcat, wishbone, etc. These wouldn’t be plays that actually would be used in the playoffs, but teams would take notice and have to spend time considering how to defend them.
Why hasn’t our girl Killer shown up at all this week to talk shit about AR and brag on the Queens?
I agree with with Deep. Rodgers threw 5 picks last season.
He has 4 already this season.
Rodgers is getting reckless and out of control!
He had 2 picks against the Bucs, where Brady only threw 3 picks in the NFCCG.
Is it to late in the season to replace Rodgers and find a winner like Brady?
Maybe trade Rodgers?
Lets get a QB like Brady….a winner.
Brady won all those SB’s …basically by himself, because all you need is the right QB….a winner, like Brady.
People think Malcom Butlers interception iced a SB victory for Brady against the Seahawks and Russel Wilson.
Here’s what really happened….earlier….Tom Brady was trash talking Russel Wilson, and got in his head where he couldn’t think right. That interception was all Brady’s doing.
Because….he’s a winner.
He did it again against Atlanta in the Super Bowl. At halftime Brady was texting Shanahan and again….got into his head, trash talking the naive young offensive coordinator.
He dared Shananhan to keep passing the ball in the 2nd half. He double dog dared him!!
What happened was that Brady goated Shanahan into leaving enough time on the clock for Brady to stage this wild comeback victory.
See…all it takes is a good QB like Brady……a winner.
A fierce front seven pass rush doesn’t hurt either.
See A. Rodgers and P. Mahomes.
But things are brighter this year, we strengthened our O line.
Nobody is going to push us around in the playoffs this season.
I enjoy the interaction with Howard and Rob.
Both bring up great points.
It should be noted that Aaron Jones had the 2nd most receiving targets on the team in 2019, and the 2nd most catches.
Which is why i referred to him often as our #2 receiver back then.
That year the rb’s, and fullback had 133 pass targets
I slant slighty towards Howard in the fact Dillon and Jones are active in the receiving game. Should they be more active?
That argument could be made citing our receiver depth, or lack thereof.
Am i trying to say we don’t yet have a clear cut #2 receiver…..you bet.
Sure…maybe it’s MVS…but his learning curve is awful slow.
Plus, how much can they afford to pay him, or, how much will he take?
Second contracts are a big deal to players in the NFL,
A lot has to be figured out in the off season.
The interesting (surprising) thing to me is…..Dillon actually is a more effective pass catcher concerning YPC average
You would think it would be Jones, but it isn’t.
With all that said…..
I really don’t care about beating the vikings and the bears in the regular season. Other than the fact guys got some sacks and it tied up the NFC #1 seed, which to me, is very important.
(Good thing we didn’t rest our starters the last 4 games like someone suggested).
I don’t care only because beating those teams is not the baromoter to gauge how well the Packers will do in the playoffs.
Neither was, beating the Titans last season.
The playoffs are a different animal…the weak ……go home.
You don’t earn any respect from playoff teams, for beating some sub .500 teams in the regular season.
The only way to earn respect…is winning against strong teams in the playoffs.
It is the only place where teams can…..prove they belong, or prove they are Championship caliber, or a Super Bowl contender.
I’ll say it for the upteenth time, year after year after year…..
To be a Super Bowl contender, you first, have to get to the Super Bowl.
You have to ….prove it.
How about we win a NFCCG?
Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. I have my own thoughts on it.
But fuck….like the last 2 years….just enjoy the ride while it last.
Next years team will have a new look. Rodgers or no Rodgers
One thing i know for damn sure…..
No matter who your QB is, we learned last season from the Packers and the Chiefs…..
If your O line gets steam rolled in a NFCCG, or a Super Bowl game….better say a prayer.
PF4L, when I saw Rob left Aaron Jones out as a Rodger’s target the first thing I thought of was your comment in 2019 that Jones was the Packer’s #2 receiver. You were correct then as usual. Williams was and still is very good as a receiver. I don’t want to take anything away from Jones, Dillion, and Williams, but you have to believe Ben Sirmans is a very fine RB coach. All three are complete backs in every phase of the game.
I was on bored with an opening drive TD pass and then exiting. But with all the horse shit spewing again from blowhards like Hub and Chris Simms i say fuck it and play the full the game and kick the shit of Detroit. The more Rodgers is pissed the better going forward.