How the Packers Can Get Over the NFC Championship Game Hump in 2021

NFC Championship sack

For two consecutive years, the Packers have found themselves on the doorstep of the Super Bowl. And for two consecutive years, they have failed to get it done in the penultimate round of the NFL playoffs. Matt LaFleur has undoubtedly achieved great success leading the Packers into the NFC championship game in his first two seasons as an NFL head coach, yet for several reasons they have been unable to get Aaron Rodgers back into the Super Bowl. Here are a few ways in which Green Bay can get over the hump and have an opportunity to bring a fifth Lombardi trophy back to Titletown.

Improve Pass Protection

 The Packers finished the 2020 regular season with the 2nd ranked offensive line per PFF. However, there was a David Bakhtiari-sized hole in the Packers offensive line against Tampa Bay last season, and the tandem of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul on the edges overwhelmed tackles Billy Turner and Rick Wagner. Aaron Rodgers was pressured on 17 of his dropbacks, including 5 sacks, and finished with a QB rating of 60.4 against pressure (vs. a rating of 112.4 with a clean pocket). If this sounds familiar, it’s because the story was the same the year prior against the 49ers. In the first half of the 2019 NFC championship – Rodgers was under constant pressure. He finished the half with 65 yards and an average depth of target of only 4 yards, along with two drive-killing third down sacks. The Packers need to do a better job of keeping Rodgers upright if they want the MVP to play like an MVP.

Win Sudden Change

The drive after a turnover is a mentally challenging situation for a unit, and can completely change the momentum of the game. This was especially the case in the 2019 game – where the Packers found themselves down 17-0 but mounting their first long drive of the game. Then, a botched snap between Rodgers and Corey Linsley thrust the Packers defense back onto the field. The 49ers went on an 8 play, 66 yard drive culminating in a FG. The Packers next possession lasted all of 56 seconds of game time, ending with a rare Aaron Rodgers interception. The Packers defense responded… by allowing a touchdown in 3 plays to make the score 27-0 before halftime and all but putting the game out of reach. 

It was deju vu last year against the Buccaneers. Aaron Rodgers’ interception with 34 seconds left in the half led to the infamous Scotty Miller touchdown over the head of Kevin King. Then, the Packers first possession of the second half was the Aaron Jones fumble, followed by a Brady touchdown pass the very next play. The 14 point swing in just over 90 seconds of game time increased the Bucs lead to 28-10. Conversely, the Packers failed to take advantage of three Tom Brady interceptions. After scoring to bring the game within a possession, the Packers went three and out on back-to-back drives after Brady’s second and third interceptions.

Improve Pass Rush

For as under siege as Aaron Rodgers was during these two games, the same cannot be said for his counterparts. Granted, Jimmy Garoppolo needed only a total of 9 dropbacks in 2019, thanks to 285 team rushing yards. However, Tom Brady was pressured just 5 times on 37 dropbacks in 2020 and was able to take advantage of matchups with his receivers against all cornerbacks not named Jaire Alexander. This was unfortunately a tale all too familiar for the Packers in 2020. The overall pass rush consistency took a step back after having a top-5 pressure rate as a team in 2019. The Packers have to hope that a new scheme, along with continued growth for players such as Rashan Gary can allow the defense to return to disruptive form again in 2021.

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Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.

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