It’s a rare occurrence when the Green Bay Packers defense is dominant enough to carry a struggling offense, especially during the Aaron Rodgers era, but that’s exactly what happened in Chicago last week. Mike Pettine was all smiles, and the defense showed him well-earned love. Gutenkunst’s big offseason signings and early draft picks balled out, with Adrian Amos’s crucial interception against his old team being particularly delicious.
But while the defense marveled, the offense was far from super. LaFleur’s new offense at first seemed a lot like the old one, featuring third-down sacks, aimless drives, and missed throws, while only scoring 10 points.
Sure, Rodgers and crew didn’t play in the preseason together, the Packers have a completely new offensive scheme, and the offense has many new pieces. You could also say that the Bears, despite missing Vic Fangio, still have one of the most dangerous defenses in the NFL. And while all of these factors are true, you still would like to see more from an offensive guru and one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
In particular, the trend of running out the playclock and being forced to use timeouts is troubling. This was a huge problem from the McCarthy era, and you’d like to see Rodgers get rid of that habit. Rodgers is a pocket assassin when he can get the ball out fast, yet Rodgers often held the ball too long, leading to sacks and throwaways.
But after another watch, there were oases in the desert. Despite the offensive struggles, there were signs that this isn’t the same mediocre Packers offense of the last few seasons. Watching with fresh eyes and forgetting about last season painted a different picture.
First, LaFleur’s tight end use was spectacularly exciting. Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, and Big Bob Tonyan all saw usage, their skillsets were utilized, and two TEs were on the field much more frequently. Graham was allowed to act as a receiver, and showed up with the first touchdown on the NFL season and drew a great pass interference. Marcedes Lewis saw more targets than he had all of last year, and proved he was more than a blocker; he had an important role as a big-bodied receiver. Tonyan was paired with Lewis on two tight end sets and saw targets as the game went on.
While it would have been more encouraging to see more play-action, the Packers did make an effort to get the run game going. Unfortunately, against the Bears’ top flight defensive front, the runners found themselves with nowhere to go. You want the team to thrive even in the face of a stout defense, but unless they continue to struggle, I’m willing to give the run game benefit of the doubt.
The tackles held up very well, and Khalil Mack wasn’t able to destroy Rodgers like last year. Bakhtiari and Bulaga are probably the best tandem in the league,and this was a good test. The interior couldn’t say the same, but Elgton Jenkins is a stud and could find himself starting sooner rather than later.
Finally, Aaron Rodgers looked much better, while still not great, on a second watch. After the first quarter, he looked much more confident and trusting in the scheme. He was willing to turn his back to the defense and let run plays happen. Unfortunately, the throws weren’t always there, and he still needs to improve. His attitude during and after the game seemed fresh: he took responsibility, looked like he was having more fun, thrilled with the defense, and had a touching gesture in the locker room when giving Matt LaFleur the game ball.
Even with this less than ideal performance, the Packers walked away from a tough road game against a division rival with a win. There were enough signs to hope the offensive woes were just shaking off rust against a tough defense. Should the offense struggle in the coming weeks, my attitude will change, but for now, I’m choosing optimism and focusing on beating the Vikings.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.