So to get a better understanding of what we’re facing, I linked up with Jason Hirschhorn from Acme Packing Company, the SB Nation community for Packers fans.
So obviously with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers continue to have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. But despite being fourth in passing yards per game, they are only 16th in points scored per. In fact, they are the lowest scoring team of the top nine passing attacks. And what’s really interesting is that according to Football Outsiders, they have the lowest variance of any team in the NFL meaning they’ve had the most consistent offensive outputs. What’s contributing to the lack of points?
Unlike in past years, the Packers have struggled in the red zone. They have only scored touchdowns on half of their red-zone trips, down over 10 percent from a season in which Aaron Rodgers only played in six games. That drop-off has most significantly affected the overall scoring output.
But other factors have contributed as well. Rodgers’ knee injury has limited his ability to make plays in general, though he has trended upward in recent weeks. Coupled with the multi-week absences of wideouts Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison have made the offense overall less consistent. Those issues shouldn’t persist coming out of the bye, but they certainly have given the offense issues early in the year.
On defense, it’s a bit of the same story. Success in yards. Struggling in points. Of course on this side, it means the Packers are clamping down on yards allowed (8th in total yards allowed per game, 5th in passing yards) but still allowing too many points. Of the top 14 teams in yards allowed per game, they are 13th in that group in points allowed. Good sir...explain!
In the modern NFL, yardage doesn’t give a proper account of the Packers defense or any team’s defensive efforts. Unfortunately for the Packers, the better metrics paint an even dimmer picture. The defense ranks 24th in DVOA entering Week 8 after back-to-back poor performances against the Lions and 49ers. That doesn’t forecast well considering that Green Bay has to stop the Rams and Patriots over the next two weeks.
Conversely, the defense dealt with numerous significant injuries over their last few games that shouldn’t impact Sunday’s game in Los Angeles. Starting corner Jaire Alexander expects to return to cover the slot, a major change considering how much the Rams funnel their passing attack through Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Newly acquired defensive back Bashaud Breeland should also make his Packers debut this Sunday after dealing with some hamstring trouble.
Even so, just returning a healthy secondary can only do so much for the defense. The Rams will have plenty of opportunities to do damage.
The 2017 season gave us our first look at a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers for a large stretch since 2013. Neither of those went all that well in his absence, understandably. How worried are you about Rodgers’ knee not being 100% knowing how much rides on his availability first and foremost?
I’ll disagree with part of this question’s premise. The Packers did a much better job in Rodgers’ absence in 2013 once Matt Flynn entered the starting lineup, going 2-2-1 during a late stretch that preserved the team’s playoff hopes. Green Bay didn’t come close to matching that performance last season, winning just three of the ten games played largely or entirely without Rodgers. That gives important context for how the Packers would likely perform if Rodgers’ current knee injury further deteriorated.
Still, Rodgers has shown considerable improvement in his knee over the past three games and comes off a week of rest. While he might still wear a knee brace for protection, his mobility and play-making skills should return more or less to normal.
I saw a piece today that showed the Packers have the third-fewest starters on their roster from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 drafts. How far do you think the lack of developed talent from that stretch has set the team back and how is the rookie class coming together in Brian Gutekunst’s first season as GM?
The last few drafts under former general manager Ted Thompson didn’t yield nearly as much talent as the Packers generally produce, and that certainly has impacted the overall quality of the roster. Those starters you mentioned -- Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez, and Kevin King -- have individually played well, but the trio’s contributions can’t overcome the lack of volume from those draft classes. The shortfall has most significantly impacted the defense which features precious few field-tilters.
As for Brian Gutekunst’s initial draft, the results thus far seem promising but not overwhelming. Alexander and fellow corner Josh Jackson have each made big plays, but the latter in particular has produced too many defensive penalties and remains a work in progress. Gutekunst’s trio of rookie wideouts played significant snaps the past few games due to injuries. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimous St. Brown have each produced big plays but lack consistency. The Packers will need more time to figure out how well the rest of the rookie class will unfold.
Since Mike McCarthy was made head coach in 2006, the Packers have made the playoffs nine times in those 12 seasons (for reference, the Rams made it...not once until last season). The Packers aren’t used to missing out on things in January, and a coaching change has already been considered. What would be the threshold that would result in his ouster? Would it simply be a losing record and missing out on the playoffs for a second year? Would it have to be demonstrably worse than that for him to get fired after so much success?
Should the Packers miss the playoffs this year -- a very real possibility given the difficulty of their remaining schedule -- it becomes hard to see Mike McCarthy returning in 2019. The disconnect between the coach and his quarterback has grown more pronounced this year, and perhaps McCarthy needs more than just a postseason berth to retain his job.
At the same time, Green Bay’s new organizational structure -- both GM and head coach report directly to team president Mark Murphy rather than a more traditional linear relationship -- raises questions as to how hot McCarthy’s seat actually is. He has a strong relationship with Murphy and appeared to gain influence this past offseason. Maybe nothing will unseat McCarthy this offseason, not even missing the playoffs.
Thanks to Hirsch for the time.