After a 34-17 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers last Thursday, the Green Bay Packers officially hit mid-season. At 6-2 and leading the NFC North division, the Packers are drawing many parallels to last season’s team. You have to feel good about the fact Green Bay is leading their division and very much in the thick of the race for the conference’s only bye in the playoffs. There is much to be pleased about and I can understand why some people would believe this team is similar to 2019’s rendition, but there are differences.
The biggest and most positive difference I’ve observed has been the offense. In 2019 we saw flashes of what this offense could be. Flashes. We never got a consistent showing of dominant offense that season, but we are in 2020. The Packers are currently number 2 in the NFL in points per game (31.6), compared to finishing 15th in 2019 (23.5). Better than a touchdown per game difference.
Green Bay’s offensive players also seem to be more comfortable in the second year of Matt LaFleur’s offense. Guys know their role and are more knowledgeable about their responsibilities within the offense. (Knowledge brings confidence.) We’re seeing the likes of Aaron Jones and Davante Adams have great success as skill players. Running back Tyler Ervin has became even more valuable as a part of the pre-snap motion this offense likes to deploy. An integral facet of the offense that gives opposing defenses something extra to think about. This has been used far more this season than last. The offensive line has kept quarterback Aaron Rodgers clean for the most part this season, only having allowed 9 sacks so far. (Allowing one or fewer sacks in 7 of 8 games played, with a constantly shuffling line due to injury, is pretty damn good.)
Speaking of Rodgers, he might be the most comfortable of all. In 2019, it seemed Rodgers and this offense had to scrape the barrel for points. They won (and continue to win) games, however they need to be won. They weren’t pretty even if his stats say otherwise. In 2019, Rodgers completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,002 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. (His down years are career years for other quarterbacks. I said it and HE said it. *shrugs*) Bring it to 2020 and the aesthetics have seemed to improve. Yet, Rodgers seems FAR more comfortable and in command of this offense. Through 8 games, Rodgers has slung the rock to a 67.5 percent pass completion rate, 2,253 yards, 24 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions. Currently on pace to exceed every stat this offense produced last season.
While the offense is enjoying great gains, the defense has been, well, more of the same. The passing defense, lead by newly minted shutdown corner Jaire Alexander, is what buoys this defense near the top 10. (Currently sitting at 11 in total defense in the NFL.) When healthy, this is a unit that is able to shut down any aerial plans opponents may have and force you to run the football. There lies the problem.
It’s an open secret as to what the weakness of this Packers defense is. The run defense is the equivalent of trying to drink water from a colander. Green Bay is currently 12th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. (111.0) They are (surprisingly) in the upper half of the league in this category, but when they are bad, they are REALLY bad, and it costs them dearly. This is a problem that cost them (potentially) a championship last season and will do the same this season if not solved. (Looking at you Gute and Pettine.)
I have to say, I’m pleased with where this team is currently at the mid-way point. Green Bay has shown a second-year step forward under LaFleur, Players are learning, growing, and producing. I’m also very cautious about this team. Call it PTSD, but the memories of being run all over by teams in critical games, continues to cause me to keep an eyebrow raised. Especially when you were smashed and dashed by Tampa Bay and Minnesota this season. However, if this is the only issue (outside of COVID of course) you’re dealing with, I say you’re doing well.
The second half of the season will bring about some tough challenges. If the Packers continue to learn, grow, and produce,they’ll meet the moment and emerge victorious. We will see if the failures of the past are just that and if this rendition of the Green Bay Packers, are able to author a more favorable ending.