Having a bye week later in the season can make for a rough go of it to begin the year, especially with not having time to rest and time to heal up. But for a team that has a goal of the playoffs on a yearly basis as the Green Bay Packers do, having a bye after the halfway mark of the season can provide dividends too.
Week 11 is when the Packers get their first reprieve of the 2019 season, which comes after playing six of their first 10 games at home, a real favorable start to any season. With the vast majority of their final six contests on the road (four away, two home), this team needs that late bye to help recharge the batteries and help gear up for that final run towards the postseason.
For the team’s performance so far this season, it has surprisingly been the defense that has been carrying the weight of the team’s division-leading record. With free-agent acquisitions Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos, this feared threesome has been wreaking havoc on opposing offenses since week one.
Taking a lot of the weight off of the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers has helped him become more of an efficient quarterback, helping him realize that by having a solid defense, his main responsibility shifts to needing to manage the offense and not always play the hero. With a well-established run game behind a stout and rebuilt offensive line, the injury issues at wide receiver and the inconsistencies of the tight end grouping have been overshadowed, a bit.
Before the bye week, the defense does have some work to do, as even though they have been much improved this year, Mike Pettine’s unit still has some changes to be made.
Ranked 21st in total yards given up (363.8/game), 14th in passing yards (239.3/G), and 23rd in rushing yards (124.5/G) coming into the game against Oakland, these numbers do not jump off of the page – but Pettine has been improving this unit every week, to the point that both Za’Darius and Preston are the leading combo in the league for sacks between the two of them, and their pass defense metrics have been improving, especially with Jaire Alexander locking down receivers.
Here are a few goals that the team should have for improving their ranks before they hit the bye week.
Become a top-15 yardage defense
21st is nothing to scoff at, but when you are ranked around teams like the New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, something needs to change. Injuries have been taking their toll on this team since the beginning of the season, but player health, in general, has looked a ton better than it has in the past.
Having lost safety Raven Greene early in the year to a season-ending injury limited the play of the safety group, especially with how Pettine’s scheme utilizes the hell out of an in the box safety. With Amos not lurking near the line a bit, Will Redmond and rookie Darnell Savage have both had to take on more deep safety looks and coverages, which has been providing mixed results.
Savage has been dealing with an ankle injury the past few weeks and has missed some time, which limits the impact that this group can have even more on the backend. Redmond has had some up and down games, but unheralded players, like cornerback Chandon Sullivan, have stepped up and made impact plays when needed.
Safety Ibraheim Campbell, who was one of the team’s two players designated to return from the IR, should be back with the team a week before the bye week, so reinforcements are on the way. By relying on the team’s pass rush to keep them stout upfront, their safeties and corners will be tasked with being able to do their best until the rush gets there.
More blitzes may need to be called if Pettine wants to keep his defense fresh and causing problems out on the field.
Develop Josh Jackson as a safety
When he was drafted in the second round, Josh Jackson was seen as a cornerback immediately with safety tendencies that could be used down the road. As a ballhawk corner for Iowa, he led the nation in interceptions, but those talents have not been seen on the big level yet.
With the corner ranks pretty much set in stone, Jackson is even having trouble getting playing time on special teams. Whether that is due to the team not trusting him or not wanting to give him a fair shake, Jackson’s talent alone should make Pettine want to get him out on the field a little bit.
Jackson has shown that maybe safety is not the best position for him, but that is where he can have the most impact instead of playing corner. Acting as a backup safety would help this team shore up their injured ranks and provide Pettine yet another piece to use in blitz packages or schemes to try to hide coverages from quarterbacks.
Get Darnell Savage healthy
Time and time again, this team’s secondary has been torn apart, managing to bend but not break. A big part of the unit’s decrease in efficiency was due to Savage’s injury.
In place of the first-round pick, Redmond has been earning more playing time, which has demonstrated the need to get Savage back into the fold. The elements that Savage brings to the defense, like a willingness to stick his nose into the play as it unfolds and quick speed to fly from sideline to sideline, are not commonly had by safeties in the league.
If Savage can get healthy soon, then the team can get back to its explosive defensive schemes that it ran to open the season, running them at full strength and giving their opponents more players to worry about on a weekly basis.
While there are many other elements that this team can work on before the bye, these two seem to be either the most important or the most practical to address. Having made huge impacts on every single game so far this season, it remains to be seen if the defense can continue to hold opposing offenses at bay while the Green Bay offense gets into rhythm.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23