The Packers beat down their longest termed rival and then last week outlasted potentially the next best NFC team despite the absence of two top receivers and Jaire Alexander (Tampa Bay admittedly had several injuries as well) and, unsurprisingly, Packers fans en masse are worried about the team. Why didn’t they score more against Tampa? Why did they give up so many rush yards against Chicago? Who are they going to add to the receiving corps and interior d line? Packers optimism is not rampant.
As a generally contrarian fan, I do feel optimistic. The first three games this season feel eerily similar to last year (blown out in a weird week 1, smash rival week 2, and then beat a strong contender week 3) and I think next week is when the offense will breakout. Let’s go over a few reasons to be optimistic about the Packers.
The offense is close
It’s obviously a transition year for the offense. After years of having a top 5 WR to change the entire gravity of opposing defenses, there is no clear number one. It makes sense that the offense would stumble over the first few weeks of the season.
There have been flashes from the two rookies, Doubs and Watson. Doubs had the most catches by a rookie since something like 1957 last week. Watson toasted Patrick Peterson on the first play of his career and then showed his speed by influencing half the Bears defense on several run plays with jet motions. One of the next steps for the offense needs to be the full integration of these two guys. If Doubs can be a legit number 1 WR and Watson can stay healthy and make the defense adjust to his speed, it will open up a lot of stuff for the offense.
Next, Bobby Tonyan looks like he is back to 100%, but he’s spending a lot of time chipping defensive ends to help Yosh Nijman and David Bakhtiari. Once the coaching staff is confident in the five offensive linemen, Tonyan should be free to be used a lot more on play action rollouts and crossing routes with linebackers in coverage.
Finally, pony personnel looked very good against the Bears and then was dead on arrival against Tampa. As Justis Mosqueda has talked about, the team needs to get more creative with Jones and Dillon on the field together.
Once these three things happen, and I’m confident that they will, it will be a totally different Packers offense. One that accentuates Aaron Rodgers’ unique RPO ability not one that relies totally on it. One that can create space for the offense with Christian Watson and creative personnel packages. One that can use Romeo Doubs as a number 1 target.
The pass rush is legit
Rashan Gary has the second most pressures in the NFL since the start of 2021. Kenny Clark has the second highest pass rush success rate in 2022. Preston Smith is having the best year of his career. Say what you want about the Packers’ defense, but you have to admit the pass rush (when the starters are in) is elite. Teams like Baltimore, Arizona and Indianapolis could sneak into the playoffs without one player close to any of those three.
The problem, of course, is when one or even all three of those guys is off the field. Jonathan Garvin isn’t cutting it, Tipa weighs about as much as I do, and Enagbare hasn’t quite adjusted to NFL speed yet. On the interior, Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry haven’t played up to expectation and TJ Slaton was never intended to be much of a pass rusher anyway.
On the bright side, Devonte Wyatt has looked good in limited snaps and there is plenty of time for Lowry to improve (like he did last year) and for veterans on other times to force their way onto the Packers for added depth.
The defense has struggled at times this year but as long as the pass rush looks like it has, the defense can turn it on against anyone.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.
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