Behind a rallying cry of “Run the Table” the Green Bay Packers are finally looking like a team that can make some serious noise in the postseason. The only issue now is whether they can keep their foot on the gas long enough to secure a 2016 playoff bid.
Continuing a disturbing trend from last season, Green Bay looked lost and played largely lackluster football on its way to a 4-6 start. The defense was largely at fault for a four-game losing streak that spanned Weeks 8-11. The Falcons, Colts, Titans, and Redskins each scored over 30 points (with the last two topping 40) as Dom Capers’ unit was helpless in trying to slow the opposition.
But the offense was far from perfect in the midseason skid. Green Bay admittedly went toe to toe with one of the league’s top scoring teams in Atlanta, creating a false sense of optimism that proved to be an anomaly in the following weeks.
The offense was nonexistent in the second and third quarters against the Colts, allowing Indianapolis to pull away, and couldn’t put points on the board against the Titans until they were already in a 21-point hole. Another slow start against the Redskins made a last-ditch comeback effort difficult, with turnovers and missed field goals dooming the Packers again.
After the blowout loss to Washington, the Packers were looking like they didn’t have a shot at an eight straight postseason trip. But Aaron Rodgers asserted that the team felt they could run the table, and Green Bay has responded by winning four straight to allow the Packers to control their own destiny. Simply put, wins against the Vikings and Lions would secure another NFC North title.
That turnaround is largely due to the offense finding its stride with its back against the wall. Knowing it needed to win out to keep pace in the division, both the offense and defense responded over Green Bay’s current four game winning streak.
The change is most notable on the offensive side of the ball, and that all starts with the quarterback. Rodgers is completing over 70 percent of his passes since the team’s last loss, compared to a 63 percent clip through the first 10 games. He’s thrown seven touchdowns in the win streak, and has not thrown an interception since the Redskins game. Overall, Rodgers has risen statistically to being the fifth highest rated passer in the league to go along with the seventh most yards and second most touchdowns.
The return of various offensive weapons in the passing game has also been noticeable in recent weeks. Jordy Nelson has put together an incredible post-ACL tear season, and the 60-yard reception against the Bears to set up the winning kick looked like the deep threat Nelson of old. Davante Adams, despite two bad drops in Week 15, is approaching his first 1000-yard season, and has been dependable and explosive just a year after many were calling for his release. When healthy, Jared Cook has shown what a fast, deep threat tight end can bring to the team.
Just as important has been what is looking like an actual solution to the lack of a running game. After losing Eddie Lacy just six weeks into the season, the Packers leaned even more heavily on Rodgers and couldn’t get a ground game going with James Starks. Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael have provided a spark that should continue to give Green Bay a more balanced attack in the playoff push. Montgomery exploded for 162 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries, making the case for a heavier workload.
While the offensive turnaround has been the most visible and important, the defense has also been more efficient in the winning streak. They did ease up a little too much to allow the Bears to nearly pull off a 17-point comeback on Sunday, but the defense did hold the Eagles, Texans, and Seahawks to 13, 13, and 10 points, respectively, after surrendering 30 or more in the four previous contests.
The biggest improvement has been in the form of creating turnovers. The Packers have posted 12 takeaways in the last four games, 10 of which have come in the last two weeks. Even if the team continues to give up yards, if they can take the ball away and get it back to a red hot offense, it will allow the Packers to continue their impressive turnaround.
There is still work to be done if Green Bay is going to secure its fifth NFC North title in the past since 2011. The Vikings have imploded since their 5-0 start, but they did hand the Packers a loss earlier in the year. The near collapse against Chicago is concerning, but right now the important thing is that Green Bay emerged with its eighth win of the year.
One thing can definitely be said about the current state of the team. The Packers are better, and much more dangerous, than they were just five weeks ago. While running the table may have once seemed like a tall task, Green Bay is now two games away from doing just that and securing a playoff bid. And if they can lock up a postseason spot, the team has shown they are capable of making a run.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .