Are the Packers’ playoff hopes over? They are second in the NFC North, but effectively 2.5 games back from the Vikings, who hold a 5-1 record after their bye week.
Green Bay stands at 3-4 after three shocking defeats in a row, against the Jets, the Giants and the Commanders. Remarkably, this is the first-ever losing streak that Matt LaFleur has experienced in his NFL head coaching career, and it leaves the team with a huge amount of ground to recover.
LaFleur has managed to get them to 13 wins in each of his first three seasons in Green Bay. Hitting that number this year would require them to go 10-0 for the remainder of the season – which looks unlikely, to say the least. Bettors have been reacting by opposing Green Bay in all the major markets. If you were using a bonus for a risk free bet on a team getting to the playoffs, would you go with the Packers?
There have been many reasons given in mitigation. The offensive line has been hit by injuries. Rodgers has an injured thumb. Special teams’ performances have regressed to the lows of last season. All these arguments have some merit, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Rodgers must bear the lion’s share of the responsibility.
In recent months, he hasn’t helped his team off the field. The fact that he took so long to renew his commitment to the team this summer was a major factor in Davante Adams leaving. Without his star receiver, Rodgers has struggled to reach his usual heights. However we got here, Rodgers is the leader of the Green Bay offense, and the recovery will largely be his responsibility.
After the defeat to the Commanders, the Packers are ranked 24th in points per game and their stats for rushing and passing yards are similarly mediocre. Worse still, those figures have been generated after a run of relatively easy games – at least on paper. Still to come are games against the Vikings, Cowboys, Eagles and Rams, and next Sunday, they face the Bills – a game in which they will be big underdogs.
The issue with the passing game is not that difficult to identify. Rodgers’ accuracy remains excellent, and he is completing passes at the same high rate. In fact, he’s only thrown three interceptions thus far this season. The big difference is in the long throws – the dramatic big-yardage passes that have won so many games for the Packers. On all measures, so far this season, his longer passes have been far less productive, which makes Green Bay much easier to play against.
There is some evidence that his offensive line, which has been hit badly by a lack of continuity brought on by injuries, is not providing him with the necessary protection. Last season, he was averaging 2.3 seconds in the pocket before coming under pressure and this time it is 2.2 seconds. This reduced protection comes at a time when he arguably needs a little more protection as he tries to get the best out of his less-talented receiver corps.
Green Bay ranks 26th for run block win rate, with a lowly 29%, which suggests that a heavier reliance on the run would not necessarily bring success.
The excellence shown by Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon has inevitably raised questions about why they haven’t been given more carries per game. The problem is that relying more heavily on the run game would rely on the offensive line providing good blocking and there is clear evidence that this is beyond the Packers at the moment. Green Bay ranks 26th for run block win rate, with a lowly 29%, which suggests that a heavier reliance on the run would not necessarily bring success.
Reports suggest that Rodgers has been vocal in calling for reinforcements both to the receiver corps and for the offensive line. The organization might argue in return that Rodgers should have made greater efforts to stop Adams from leaving the franchise. While that may be fair comment, it doesn’t address the current situation and right now, Rodgers needs to get more from his receivers.
Allen Lazard has been their best receiver so far this season, but he is ranked 37th for yards gained receiving. Romeo Doubs, Randall Cobb and tight end Robert Tonyan are all ranked outside the top 60. For a team that has been known for the potency of its passing game, those are stark numbers and the team’s situation is not going to improve until Rodgers and his receivers work out their problems. If they can do that, there is still time to make the playoffs, but it looks like they will have to do it the hard way.
Following a win against the Chicago Bears in week 13, the Packers are still clinging to their playoff chances and have not been entirely eliminated from contention. It’s been a rough season for the team with injuries to Aaron Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur’s tenure has been stained with multiple successive losses. With that said, LaFleur’s job should be save and his home in Wisconsin will not be in foreclosure anytime soon. On the other hand, Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry is probably polishing his resume these days.