The Packers are off this week. They are undefeated headed into the bye for the first time since 2011. Despite the 6-0 start the natives are restless. The Packers offense hasn’t looked the same as in seasons past. The loss of Jordy Nelson has been felt on many levels. Randall Cobb is both injured and constantly doubled teamed and Davante Adams can’t help because he’s not playing.
Though this is not the midway point of the season, there’s no game on Sunday so I have to write about something, right? I’m going to provide some observations from the first six games of the season and provide some thoughts about the Packers moving forward.
Ted Thompson had a really good draft. Damarious Randal is an above average NFL corner right now. For a guy making a position switch from college his current production weighed against his lack of experience provides a very exciting career arc. Quentin Rollins also appears to be a useful defender, but more on him in a minute.
Ty Montgomery is more than just a kick returner, despite the analysis of quite a few “draftniks” and even Aaron Ripkowski and Kennard Backman are finding their way into offensive snaps. The jury is still out on Jake Ryan, Christian Ringo and Brett Hundley. They’re all still with the organization and all, especially, Hundley have shown flashes.
Quentin Rollins and Damarious Randall are putting Thompson in a good bargaining position. Casey Hayward is the second biggest contract extension that needs to get handled by Russ Ball and Ted Thompson behind Mike Daniels. Hayward is one of the best slot corners in football, there’s no question about it. That doesn’t mean he can’t be replaced if he and the Packers can’t come to terms.
Without adding any players through the draft next year or free agency the Packers are pretty set at corner in 2016. Sam Shields, Damarious Randall and Ladarius Gunter provide three corners that can play outside. Quentin Rollins and Micah Hyde provide two corners that can play inside. Having five corners that can play is still a luxury. Hayward will be a luxury next season. It will be interesting to see if he and Thompson can come to terms.
Jordy Nelson is very important. Nelson’s impact on the offense runs deep. Not only was he the best deep threat on the team, but he was a true number one receiver. Defenses had to game-plan for Nelson. He would take up the opposition’s number one corner and often safety help as well. His greatness allowed Randall Cobb to thrive and would have made Davante Adams a real mismatch.
Aaron Rodgers still has a 15 to 2 TD to INT ratio, which puts him on pace for 4o touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Regardless of those numbers, it’s easy to see how the Packers offense looks “bogged” down. The Packers average points per game are way down, especially at home. With that said:
Everything on offense is going to get better. As much credit as Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line get for the offensive success (and they should), offenses don’t work without skill position players. Without Jordy Nelson everyone had to slide up one position in the pecking order, and it hasn’t gone smoothly.
Davante Adams is going to be back after the bye week. He has the ability to be a true number one receiver. If he can give the offense a number one threat and draw some of the coverage away from Cobb it will allow Rodgers to spread the ball around more effectively and sustain drives. Cobb himself should be a more effective player with two weeks off for his AC sprain.
Eddie Lacy is also going to get better. Not only is Eddie traditionally a second half runner, but he’s nicked up right now. As he and the offensive line get healthier, Lacy will be just as effective as he was in 2013 and 2014. Green Bay’s offense might not get to where it was in 2011 or 2014, but it is going to eventually be good enough because:
The defense is legit. I have no issue with the San Diego game. Yes, the Packers gave up a lot of yardage to Philip Rivers but they also had to be on the field for over 80 plays and 68 passing plays. They only gave up 20 points. It’s not the end of the world. The only thing that concerns me whatsoever is the 3rd down defense, which will be helped by the pass rush that the return of Nick Perry will provide.
The Packers defense is 6th overall in defensive DVOA from FootballOutsiders. They rank 4th against the pass and 20th against the run. I haven’t seen a Capers defense this good since the 2010 team. I’m also not convinced that when Perry and Burnett come back it’s not going to be better.
For years Ted Thompson has stocked this defense with high draft picks. Just because those players have taken a few seasons to develop doesn’t mean they were ever bad picks. Pass rushers and interior defensive linemen specifically take two or three seasons to develop into the kind of players they are going to be. Jumps from Datone Jones, Nick Perry and Mike Daniels along with the resurgence of BJ Raji have provided the defensive boost the Packers need.
There’s nothing wrong with Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is the best player in football. He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever seen play. With that said, if you take the #1, #3 and #5 receiving option away from any quarterback and then sprain his running back’s ankle there’s going to be a dip in performance. As I mentioned earlier Rodgers is still on pace for a 4,000 yard, 40 TD 5 INT season, which is MVP level.
I understand that his numbers aren’t where they have been when everyone is healthy. I also get that it looks like he’s holding on to the ball longer. There are trust issues between the quarterback and his young receivers.
A lot of Packers talking heads would like to blame the QB and cherry pick little individual plays where he didn’t throw to an open “young” receiver but that doesn’t tell the whole story. On the whole, Packers receivers are not getting as open as they did last year, whether Rodgers trusts them or not.
Jeff Janis is a young prospect with a lot of upside, but he is not going to save the season. Also, the season doesn’t need saving. Janis showed his speed and athleticism last Sunday against the Chargers. He got to touch the ball twice and both times he made big plays. Janis is currently averaging 39.5 yards a touch, which is certainly useful.
With that said, those moments from the San Diego game are the trust building moments Janis needs to build a relationship with the quarterback. Building trust with the quarterback isn’t his only issue. Janis has technique issues and X’s and O’s issues that need solving. He’s progressing, but he’s doing it slowly. The reason that a player with his measurables wasn’t drafted in the first round is because he’s raw. Let the raw player develop. Don’t accuse the QB or the head coach of foul play when it doesn’t happen as fast as you want it to.
This is the best team in the league. It’s not New England. Brady has been very impressive and as the reigning champs they deserve to be the favorites but if they played on a neutral field after the bye week, Green Bay would win more often than not.
The Patriots are very good, there’s no question about it. The Packers beat these Patriots last year when they had Darelle Revis, and now they don’t. This Green Bay defense is better than last year and as the offense gels it would be just good enough to get past Brady and his Pats. The debate between the two teams boils down to this: the Packers D is better than New England’s and Rodgers is better than Brady.
Finally, the Packers only have one player whose injury would end their season: Rodgers. The Pats have two. If New England loses either Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski they’re not serious Super Bowl contenders.
We will find a lot out during week 9 in the game at Carolina. The Cardinals keep finding a way to lose, the Seahawks just might not be good and no one from the NFC East is going to win a game in Lambeau Field. The only other undefeated team in the NFC is Carolina. If the Panthers come into that game undefeated and knock off the Packers, they become a serious problem. If they don’t Green Bay’s path back to Santa Clara looks much easier than anticipated.