With the first Sunday of the NFL regular season behind them, the Green Bay Packers find themselves with a 1-0 record and some encouraging developments heading into their first divisional game. However, the team didn't leave Jacksonville without revealing some of the flaws that persist from last season.
Parts of the offense looked better than expected, especially under the conditions (near 100-degree heat, adjusting to new personnel along the offensive line). Even the team's workhorse running back displayed renewed burst and power after an offseason of adversity. Yet those hoping for a return of the Packers' high-flying passing game exited the weekend with as many questions and concerns as they had in 2015.
Overall, the season-opener provided more positives than negatives. The team secured a win and avoided any catastrophic injuries (though cornerback Sam Shields did leave the game with a possible concussion). The contest gave Green Bay plenty to build on as it prepares for its next opponent.
The new-look offensive line passed its first test
Given the surprising departure of Josh Sitton during final cutdown, the Packers offensive line -- especially new starting left guard Lane Taylor -- found itself under the microscope entering Sunday's tilt in Jacksonville. One game doesn't make or break a unit, but the early results appear promising for Green Bay.
Against a Jaguars pass rush featuring Super Bowl hero Malik Jackson, former No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler and veteran defensive lineman Jared Odrick, the Packers yielded just one sack on the day. Though Rodgers danced around from time to time, the line usually gave him a clean pocket to step into, resulting in few busted plays and no turnovers.
On the ground, the line helped Eddie Lacy reach 61 yards on 14 carries, good for an average of 4.4 yards per rush. James Starks found less success behind the unit, finishing with a clip of 1.8 yards and no carry producing more than 4 individually. Still, the blocking didn't produce many major problems outside of one group-wide gaff near the goal line where Rodgers audibled to a run yet all five linemen sank back into pass sets.
Though the offensive line passed its first test, it likely needs to perform even better next week against the potent Minnesota Vikings defensive front.
Nelson's return didn't automatically fix the passing game
Much of the fault for the Packers' offensive struggles in 2015 were ultimately blamed on the absence of Jordy Nelson, and for an understandable reason. Nelson had long established himself as one of the league's premier receivers, particularly as a deep threat in Green Bay's aerial attack. Without him stretching opposing secondaries, Green Bay found fewer and smaller windows with which to exploit.
Though the Packers offense produced 27 points on Sunday, the passing game remained largely inefficient.
Rodgers completed just three passes of 20 yards or more, including a seemingly impossible touchdown connection with Davante Adams. However, similar to much of last season, Rodgers' initial reads failed to produce an open receiver, forcing him into check downs and more difficult third-down situations. In the end, the Packers averaged less than 6 yards per pass attempt, a woefully low figure for a team expected to return to its 2014 heights.
As with the offensive line, the tests only become harder next week in Minnesota. Green Bay needs to figure out how to better scheme receivers open down the field and allow Rodgers to complete more throws past the sticks.
The defense stonewalled Jacksonville's ground attack
Though it went mostly unnoticed due to the Packers' offensive issues, Dom Capers' defense improved considerably in 2015. The addition of cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins along with the development of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix strengthened a secondary that established itself among the league's best.
However, the defense did feature one major weakness though; it gave up too many big gains on the ground. That problem seemed likely to grow worse with the team keeping just two experienced full-time defensive linemen on the Week 1 roster. Yet somehow, the Packers bottled up the Jaguars' running game, allowing just 48 yards on the day. More impressive still, Jacksonville averaged just 1.8 yards per carry.
The improved run defense didn't fix everything for Green Bay. The team gave up over 8 yards per pass attempt, multiple at the hands of Rollins during the second quarter. However, with Adrian Peterson and a Teddy Bridgewater-less Vikings waiting right around the bend, such a dominant performance against the run offers promise for another strong showing in a key divisional matchup.