For the first time in three years, the Green Bay Packers are playing meaningful December football.
With the Minnesota Vikings losing to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, the Packers are cleanly in first place of the NFC North and currently hold the number three seed in the NFC. The games haven’t always been pretty, but in the NFL, a win is a win.
A favorable schedule allows the team to get hot and fight for a playoff bye week. This team has a clear identity: it dominates in the red zone and in takeaways but struggles with giving big plays between the 20s and avoiding third-and-long situations. The team’s modus operandi is unlikely to change this far into the season, but there are adjustments the team can make to play with the big boys. The biggest tweak is to play the team’s best offensive players as frequently as possible.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Yet key offensive players like Aaron Jones, Marcedes Lewis, and Allen Lazard could stand to see an increase in snaps, and the offense is at its best when these players (and Davante Adams, of course) are on the field. Let’s look at this by skill position.
Starting with wide receiver, we know Davante Adams is WR1, and also really good, despite an odd narrative that the team is better without him. An advantage of not trading for a veteran at the position was giving the younger receivers a chance in the spotlight through Adam’s injury. Allen Lazard took that step with gusto, becoming a major weapon in the offense.
Yet while Lazard’s snap count has increased, he’s only started one (!!!) game (according to NFL.com) and is losing snaps to Geronimo Allison, who has struggled this year. Packer Nation is firmly aboard the Lazard hype train, and the team needs to commit to him as WR2. Lazard is a big, fast target with reliable hands, the support of his quarterback, and a buttload of potential.
For the first time all season, all four tight ends were active against the Giants, but only one stood out in a positive way. “Big Dog” Marcedes Lewis, a nickname affectionately given by Aaron Rodgers, received his first touchdown and became the 38th player to catch a TD from Rodgers. Lewis is far from a blocking only tight end and does wonders in the passing game whenever given the opportunity.
Earlier this season, I laid out the case for Lewis as TE1, and while that hasn’t materialized, the gap between the snaps played by he and Jimmy Graham dwindle every week. According to footballguys.com, Lewis played 40% of snaps to Graham’s 42% against the Giants. Graham can still play an important role on this team, but the Packers are at their best with Lewis on the field.
Finally, when it comes to running back, the team is reluctant to commit to Aaron Jones at times – an unfortunate holdover from the Mike McCarthy days. Jones has had some injury issues in previous seasons, and Jamaal Williams is everything you’d want in a RB2, so the desire to play WIlliams makes sense. But the offense is at its best when Aaron Jones is on the field. Jones is dynamic and in the top echelon of running backs in the league.
When Davante Adams was injured, the offense literally ran through Jones. But, like the previous examples, the snap count is far too close between him and Williams. In a Shanahan offense, everything runs through the run game. For that to work, use the best back as often as possible.
With Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marcedes Lewis, and Aaron Jones on the field, that still leaves the Packers one more skill player to rotate in for the best situation. And it goes without saying that these players need to come off of the field for breathers, of course. Geronimo Allison, MVS, Jake Kumerow, Jimmy Graham, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger, and Jamaal Williams have important roles to play, and Matt LaFleur can be creative with 21 and 12 personnel. Throw three tight ends on the field and see what happens.
But for the offense to improve between the 20s and to avoid long third-down situations, the team needs to commit to its top four skill players as often as possible. This is the time of year they’ve been kept fresh for. Open the lid and get weird, because it’s almost playoff time in Green Bay once again.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.