After that first week, some Packers fans were ready to call it on the season and even Aaron Rodgers’ time in Green Bay. Since then, the defense has stiffened, Rodgers has started playing on schedule, and the team looks like it will visit (at least) the NFC Championship game for the third straight season. Here are three reasons to have optimism for the 2021 Packers Season.
The Defense is Getting Better
The biggest reason for concern after that first week was the no-show from the defense. A lot of people overreacted to that game, including me. The defensive line got blown off the ball almost every play, Kevin King looked like Kevin King, and no one looked like they knew what they were doing.
Halfway through the Lions game, LaFleur infamously told Joe Barry to pick coverage or pressure and since then the defense has looked different. The Lions were shutout the rest of the game and at least 14 of the 49ers’ 28 points were gifted to them by bad special teams play or bad refereeing.
Now the defense has become more dynamic. Kenny Clark moves around the line more, targeting the hopeless weak link on the other side. Personnel is changed based on situation not just to be “faster”. Preston Smith looks to be having his best year and the rest of a much-maligned defensive line has generated pressures if not a lot of sacks.
At the linebacker level, De’Vondre Campbell has played better than any Packers linebacker in a decade and Krys Barnes might be the second best – when he left the game against SF the middle of the field immediately became the 49ers’ top target.
As a fan who doesn’t pretend to have scouting experience, I was torn about the Eric Stokes pick. A lot of smart people said he wasn’t worth a first round pick. A lot of smart people said he was Sam Shields reincarnated. Sam Shields would be a worth a first round pick in my book and so far, those people are winning.
The Offense is Back to World Beating Status
Rodgers’s biggest weakness over the years has been hero-ball. Rodgers may be Iron Man, but you don’t defeat the aliens attacking earth without the rest of the Avengers.
Rodgers dancing around in the pocket waiting for someone to come open 20 yards downfield while receivers raced by wide open on crossing routes brought back flashbacks to the annus horribilis of 2018. Had Rodgers regressed back to that state? Thankfully, the offense returned from the brink and lit up a pair of defenses that play hard, even if they aren’t spectacular.
Rodgers’ unworldly connection to Davante Adams is back and superstar Aaron Jones looks like the rare running back worth his second contract. Meanwhile, the offensive line has been solid even while it engages in a weekly round of musical chairs.
There’s More to Come
Almost lost in that should’ve-been-blowout last week was the emergence of a few players who haven’t quite hit their stride this season. Allen Lazard had a 40-yard catch on a third down. MVS had his first big downfield catch and then TD of the season. AJ Dillon actually got some work in the pass game. Even Amari Rodgers was on the field for a few jet action plays.
On the defensive side, Tyler Lancaster had, probably, the best game of his career. Dean Lowry took advantage of Daniel Brunskill. Darnell Savage had his best plays of the season. And there’s more to come.
All-pros Za’Darius Smith and Davis Bakhtiari haven’t played in the last two games. This off-season, Gutekunst was asked why he didn’t dip into the free agent market. Gutekunst answered that the team had paid several free agents a ton of money – they were just all on the team already. That may be how Gutekunst sees the trade deadline this year too, why spend on outside players when you have two of the best in the league right here.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.