After finally reaching what is the latest Packers bye week in franchise history, there is plenty to reflect upon. To say it has been a turbulent season may be an understatement – starting back on draft day and continuing through with covid and vaccination drama. Couple that with the injuries the team has been faced with, and a 9-3 record suddenly seems pretty impressive. With no game to prepare for this weekend, now seems like a good time to analyze how they got there, and prognosticate for what might be to come.
Emergence of AJ Dillon
A draft pick that was scoffed at by the analytics faction of NFL fans, Dillon has proven to be much more of a complete package than his college tape showed. Credit to Packers Northeast region scout Mike Owen, who had watched Dillon from his freshman year at Boston College and saw the traits that weren’t utilized in their run-heavy offense. “The surprising thing is, you might not see it much during games, but you go to practice and stuff, you see him running routes, you see him catching the football,” Owen said. “He’s got real good hands. He went to the combine and showed some things. So, I think his receiving game is actually further along than you might believe, and I think that’s just an added element to his game.” We knew Dillon could be a punishing one-cut runner, but his ability out of the backfield has given the Packers a true tandem that will be huge for the postseason push.
Return of Rodgers Deep Ball
It was always going to be tough for Aaron Rodgers to replicate the historic season he had last year. But one area that had noticeably regressed from a season ago was his accuracy down the field. Per PFF – Rodgers completed just 13 of 41 passes over 20 yards, for 466 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. However, during the last 2 weeks this has ballooned to 6 for 12 passes for 228 yards, 3 TD and 0 INTs. The return of Marquez Valdes-Scantling from injury has no doubt played a large part in this as he has had 3 of those explosive plays totaling 142 yards in the last 2 games. Rodgers and MVS have clearly needed some time to get back on the same page after each missing extensive practice time, but if they can continue to take advantage of one-on-one matchups as defenses continue to focus on Davante Adams, it gives this offense a whole different element.
Championship Caliber Defense
I’ve written already about the Packers defense and the credit they deserve, but they continue to be one of the biggest surprises of the Packers season. Coming into the bye they rank 5th in the NFL in points per game, and their 242 points allowed through 12 games is the lowest mark for the Packers since 2015. This includes having faced 5 of the top 10 offenses by DVOA to this point. Reinforcements will be coming at some point with Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander to return before season’s end. This is likely the most talented defensive roster the Packers have had since 2010 – with impact players at every level of the defense. As colder weather comes and the competition stiffens, having a unit that can not only keep the Packers in games, but actually win games, will be a welcome change.——————
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.