Unless you’re the 72’ Dolphins no one expects their team to be perfect. Everyone including the team should have manageable expectations. Frustration begins to set in when the team underperforms and you know they can do better. Most likely these hopes and wishes come from flashes of brilliance or a stroke of confidence that ends in a touchdown. The Green Bay Packers now hold a 3-1 record after an overtime win against the New England Patriots. While the Packers have been squeaking by with wins in the last two weeks, no one would say that they are playing at a high level.
This Aaron Rodgers offense looks confused and like they are playing by different playbooks. At times Rodger’s shows why he is going to be a first ballot HOF candidate, throwing receivers open or in spots that only they can catch it in. In other times the connection is wholeheartedly disconnected between him and his receivers. While rookie receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs have shown that they can be playmakers, they also show that it takes more than pure athleticism or skill to have a consistently dominant receiving attack. The two Packer veterans in Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb provide cushions to their ailing receiving core, but when they are covered questions marks arise everywhere else.
The rushing game has proven to have the capability to be a dominant force in the league. With the Packers often utilizing a split back, they show why it’s an elite tool to create open looks and spawning many different plays.(More about this can be found here) However this rushing attack has also proved that it can be shut down such as they were against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 3. While this can also be attributed to the lacking passing game, if they were able to put the two aspects of the game together, there would be little stopping this offense. However the inconsistency to gel within the two groups itself, let alone the two groups together, has proven to be a massive barrier that the Packers have yet to surpass.
This defense is one that has been periodically amazing and periodically a disaster. There are times when the Packers consistently win the battle of the trenches, stuffing runs and generating pressure en route to sacks or bad throws. While the Packers defense clutched up near the end of the game including overtime against the New England Patriots, they also let a third round rookie score 21 points and looked helpless at times. The Patriots essentially had three different plays in their arsenal. Inside runs that they would hammer at towards the Packers, then coupled with a long play action with two receivers downfield, and then occasionally a pass from shotgun that wouldn’t travel more than 10 yards downfield, before returning to the run.
Some notably bad play in this game came from first round rookie Quay Walker and second year player Eric Stokes. Quay Walker racked up seven total tackles, which seemingly all came after the Patriots would rush 5-7 yards first. He had trouble shedding blocks and meeting runners at the line of scrimmage. If we remember, this is a massive similarity to Blake Martinez the former Packers linebacker who struggled with the same issue. Eric Stokes is showing that his elite speed isn’t enough to comfortably match against receivers and is easily getting burned for receptions by the opposing offense. The upside is both of these players are still young and proper technique can raise them to an elite level.
Joe Barry is in his second year and while he has shown some ability to lead a strong suffocating defense, he still has his share of questionable play calling. Against the aforementioned Patriots and their playstyle, Barry was unable to stifle them for long periods of time. Perhaps the most notable style of play and one that comes up in key situations is his two minute defense. In an effort to not get burned on a long passing play, Barry opts to keep his defense behind everything. While this style of defense achieves his wishes, this soft defense also allows for elite quarterbacks to read and pick apart the zone defenders allowing for chunk ten yards receptions with ease. Whether these problems occur due to bad gameplanning, scheming, and calls by Barry or because of poor play or recognition by the defense is still somewhat muddled, and if this trend continues we will see further in the season the true nature of the problem with the defense.
It’s Not All Bad
While there are glaring issues with the Green Bay Packers defense, the gleaming dagger that they possess comes with their third down defense. They currently have the best third down defense in the league at a 23.81% conversion rate. To further this, teams are now 0/19 on third down conversions when they have 8 or more yards to go. This stellar stat is solely what keeps the Green Bay Packers in close games and can be largely attributed to Rashan Gary who is having his breakout year thus far, with at least one sack and a tackle for loss in every game. If teams continue to struggle against the Packers on third down, the Packers can be sure to stick around closely regardless of their opponent.
In the last five years when has the special teams not been an issue for this team. The difference is this year we have actual upside. Pat O’Donnell and his crew of gunners(flyers as Rich Bisaccia calls them) have put opposing offenses in terrible starting positions. Rudy Ford and Keisean Nixon have proven to be one of the best gunner duos in the league, and are a huge factor as to why O’Donnell has had 61% of his punts land past the 20 yard line with only one touchback. In back to back weeks O’Donnell, Ford, and Nixon have pinned the opposing team at the two yard line.
While this is certainly something to look forward to, the problems arise at the punt return team and kickoff defense. Amari Rodgers is running out of games to prove why he should be on the team. With muffed punts still somehow being a problem, not being able to slip any tackles, and no production value for the offense, being in his third year questions marks are starting to arise about his roster spot. He is a worse version of the missed shifty Tyler Ervin. The kickoff defense showed flaws against the Patriots, with wide gaps for their return men to fly through. Leaving their rookie quarterback in good field position to strike. While the special teams have taken massive strides forwards, they aren’t perfect yet, however, it is no longer a far hopeful wish that they will become solid as the season extends forwards.
Just less than a quarter of the season has progressed, and while there are red flags in this team, there is still an incredible amount of hope, especially with rookies on both sides of the ball continuously developing. To count out an Aaron Rodgers led team would be foolish and with so much of the season to still go through, changes can be made and the team can be made better. Only time will tell how the Green Bay Packers shape themselves to become a Superbowl contender. “R-E-L-A-X” – Aaron Rodgers