A 22-point shutout win that somehow still feels unsatisfying shows the Packers are headed in the right direction. Green Bay’s running games once again got whatever it wanted on the ground and Aaron Rodgers made some big plays with his arm and his legs. They were a machine on third down (with a few notable exceptions which we will get to) and looked, for most of the game, like they could do pretty much whatever they wanted against a Bills defense that suffocated and rattled a very good Vikings offense in Week 3.
After the game, Rodgers described the offensive output as “terrible,” praising the defense as championship caliber and the offense as non-playoff quality. That’s not quite fair, as the Texans made the playoffs with Brian Hoyer not that long ago, but that’s not the point.
When the quarterback says this could have been a 600-yard, 45-point day, he’s not wrong. Green Bay should have been leading about 30-0 at halftime, not 16-0.
Aaron Jones injected the kind of life into this run game we expected coming off the suspension. The Packers are finding ways to get Jimmy Graham involved and are creatively utilizing Ty Montgomery in the passing game. Geronimo Allison, despite some catches he’ll tell you he should have made, has emerged as a legitimate NFL playmaker and the offensive line held up against a ferocious Bills front.
All that said, critical and easily correctable failures can not go unchallenged. There’s absolutely no reason to call give-up plays on third-and-long with Aaron Rodgers. The draw on 3rd-and-11 and receiver screen on 3rd-and-16 are incomprehensible given what we know about Rodgers ability. Unless it’s 3rd-and-20+, the Packers should never give in or try to get cute with draw plays, especially not with Jamaal Williams.
The running back rotation makes no sense and it’s starting to feel like Mike McCarthy is paralyzed by choice. He likes the reliability of Jamaal Williams and the versatility of Montgomery, but Jones is clearly the best back on this team. Enough of this hot hand nonsense.
On Sunday, Jones finished with 65 yards on 11 carries. Williams managed just 27 yards on 11 carries. Tell me how they have the same number of totes given that disparity. A desire to not be predictable by formation shouldn’t override the overwhelming reality that Jones should be a majority player in this offense. Jones posted 82 yards on 12 touches against the Bills. Montgomery had 74 yards on seven touches. At what point does the playmaking ability outweigh the “reliability?” Jones and Montgomery aren’t liabilities in pass protection and each are considerably more explosive.
Green Bay ran 74 plays on Sunday and Jones should have been in on 45 of them. Montgomery should get 20. Williams can have the other nine just to keep everyone fresh. Rodgers has advocated for Jones as a playmaker in this offense and the lack of coherency to McCarthy’s plan with these running backs has to be partially driving the frustration from QB1.
Another key personnel question is what purpose, exactly, does Lance Kendricks serve in this offense? His deployment continues to make no sense given the Packers’ options at the position. It was nice to see McCarthy takes Jimmy Graham off the field for some two tight end work where they want to run it, but replacing him with Kendricks simply doesn’t make sense. He’s a bad blocker, yet this offense uses him for lead blocks and seal blocks on inside runs for reasons that boggle the mind.
As a pass catcher, supposedly his forte, he’s never been a reliable receiver. Another third-down drop on Sunday killed a drive. At what point does “he’s one of our guys” or whatever absurd coaching cliche piece of nonsense McCarthy comes up with simply run out of rope? This team signed Marcedes Lewis, a legitimate starting tight end in the league and one of the best blockers in football. He’s the perfect complement to Graham, and yet the Packers have only played the two together on a handful of snaps all season.
Kendricks no longer serves a useful purpose to this team and not only should we be wondering why Marcedes Lewis isn’t playing over him, it’s becoming clear perhaps Big Bob Tonyan should be in that conversation as well.
The final part of this Rodgers himself.
He looked spry and elusive, like the old Rodgers not the old Rodgers, making plays with his feet and extending them to create through the air. But this isn’t vintage Rodgers throwing the ball. He missed Davante Adams on a slant again, which could just be timing and reps from not practicing. Rodgers just isn’t quite his razor sharp self. And perhaps that’s part of his frustration in all of this. He’s not playing up to his own standard. The numbers are still there. His lone interception of the season to date came on a double-tip, but this team has too many playmakers to not be putting up 28+ every week.
With Randall Cobb out and Allison hurt for a portion of the second half, this team can be forgiven for not lighting up the scoreboard with two rookies forced into starting roles. But Rodgers correctly notes Davante Adams is one of the toughest covers in the league and this team should be force-feeding him. Ditto for Jimmy Graham and Aaron Jones.
For most of this offense’s lifespan, Rodgers has lauded the scheme for being about winning your matchup. The ball can go anywhere. That works when the team has prime Rodgers, with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jermichael Finley et al. But the league has changed and the Packers haven’t changed enough with it.
They’re 75% there. Rodgers simply being Rodgers would be enough to make this offense really good. Fix a couple personnel problems and swap four or five calls a game. Add in Rodgers getting healthy and sharpening his edge, this team will be back to lighting up opponents. We saw a glimpse of it in Week 1 when Rodgers was as sharp as he’s been all season. If he gets back to being that guy, everything else falls into place. But when he’s not, as he hasn’t been the last few weeks, the shortcomings elsewhere magnify.
A few small tweaks should be enough to get this offense back on track. And perhaps that’s part of why Rodgers is so upset. They’re close. And some of the shortcomings stem from easily correctable problems. He can see how good this offense can be. They’re not there yet, but it won’t take much to get them there.