At long last, the Packers bye week has come and gone. The Packers entered their bye with a strong 9-3 record but in desperate need of some rest and time to get healthy. Additionally, the bye game the Packers coaches the ability to look in the mirror to make changes for the latter half of the season. Make no mistake: this team is building towards something special this season. However, there is much that will need to be improved on if they want to make a deep playoff run. This all starts Sunday night at Lambeau field against their age-old rival, the Chicago Bears. To kick the post-bye season off with a win, the Packers will need a big game from some important players.
Kenny Clark has had a monster season so far. He ranks amongst the best interior defenders in the league in pressure rate. He is also a force against the run, wreaking havoc on opposing teams. Clark’s play has come to the point where he is elevating the players around him. It isn’t surprising at all that Dean Lowry is also having one of the best seasons of his career as well. The chaos that the interior line is sowing each week is a big reason why the defense has taken such a leap forward so far.
The Bears will no doubt look to contain Clark, particularly in the running game. Their plan will likely revolve around establishing the run so they do not put too much pressure on whichever quarterback is starting. Clark will need to pick up right where he left off, which would mean a quick end to any chance the Bears have to stage an upset.
John Runyan Jr. and Royce Newman
Both young guards for the Packers have had ups and downs so far in 2021. Particularly, 4th round rookie Royce Newman has had a tumultuous start to his career. One play he’s pancaking a defender, the next he’s allowing a free rusher to penetrate the backfield. This is the life of a rookie finding their way in the NFL. On the other hand, John Runyan Jr. has held up pretty well overall after being inserted into the starting lineup. However, at times he has also shown errors common of young players.
After the bye week, it’s absolutely critical that both players take a step forward in their play and consistency. This week could be a great opportunity to show that improvement against Bears DT Akiem Hicks, if he is able to come back from his injury. He is one of best penetrating defensive tackles in the NFL and both Newman and Runyan Jr. will have their hands full with him and a deep Bears defensive line. A strong performance from both guards will go a long way towards starting off the final 5 game stretch of the regular season with a win.
Few players on the Packers roster needed the bye week more than Allen Lazard. He has been a consistent presence on the injury list and while he has played, has clearly not looked 100%. His injury may have contributed to his increased drops. The bye has allowed him to do two things; get physically healthy and start fresh for the latter half of the season. His snaps will continue to come, as he’s easily the Packers best blocking receiver and is more than willing to do the dirty work.
Against the Bears, the Packers are likely to want to play classic December football. That is: run the ball. Expect Lazard to have a major role in the offensive game plan both as a run blocker and as a receiver off play action. It will be critically important that he gets off to a good start this week to stack success and confidence leading into the Playoffs. This week could be Lazard’s breakout game of 2021.
Jordan is a lifelong Packer fan who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on twitter at @jordantwolf.