Tight ends play strong supporting role in Packers’ Week 1 victory

The Green Bay Packers’ offense silenced critics with a complete dismantling of the rival Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers looked like his MVP self and defied his usual criticisms. He played on-time, took checkdowns when available, and his footwork was sharp. One game may be too little data to draw conclusions, but it confirms what we heard from training camp; Aaron Rodgers has bought into the offense.

On a day when Aaron Rodgers arose like a sleeping dragon and Davante Adams carved the Vikings’ secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey, it’s easy to overlook how crucial the tight ends were to this victory. LaFleur used multiple tight end sets to great effect and kept the entire group involved. Week 1 was just a taste of what we can expect from the tight ends this season.

LaFleur has stated many times he wants to create the “illusion of complexity” in his offense. Tight ends are the perfect component for this mindset. Despite the fact that the tight end group saw few targets, the fact that they could be aerial threats created matchup nightmares for Mike Zimmer. In this game, LaFleur was able to use his tight ends as quick blockers, making life easier for the rest of his weapons.

Despite opening with Marcedes Lewis as TE1 on the depth chart, it was Robert Tonyan who claimed the lion’s share of snaps, playing a whopping 62% of offensive snaps. Neither Lewis nor Tonyan saw a target, but both played major roles as blockers. Hopefully, Tonyan will take the year-three leap and become a major contributor to this offense.

Rookie tight end Josiah Deguara had a spectacular opening, playing 31% of offensive snaps and lining up all over the field. Degaura lined up as a fullback, inline tight end, and straight out wide. He took out two Viking defenders with one block, clearing the way for a 19-yard Allen Lazard play. The rookie recorded his first career catch of 12 yards and would have had a big gain on a second target had he lined up against any other linebacker than Eric Kendricks.

It should be noted that despite tight end being a traditionally slow position to translate to NFL-level play, Deguara not only saw more snaps than any other rookie on the roster but also lined up in multiple spots. Expectations should be tempered, but this was a very promising showing for the young tight end.

Jace Sternberger, who many, including this writer, thought would take over as TE1, saw the least amount of snaps, playing only 15% of offensive snaps. After missing a good chunk of training camp due to COVID-19, Sternberger will need time to work his way up the depth chart. If he can build on what we saw at the end of 2019, he should be in the mix sooner rather than later.

While we didn’t see big receiving numbers from any of these tight ends, LaFleur made great use of the tight end position to elevate his offense in other ways. Expect some weeks to look like this, with the tight ends elevating the wide receivers. Other weeks, we might get a 100-yard receiving game from any of these players. That’s what the illusion of complexity comes down to, and it looks off to a strong start in 2020.

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.
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