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Wednesday Walkthroughs: Silver linings from the Packers’ slow start

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APC Writers share what they’ve found to be positive about in a disappointing start to the 2018 season.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the Green Bay Packers’ 2018 season has been...underwhelming. Sure, if a couple plays (or, ahem, calls) broke differently, the Packers might have a much better record than 2-2-1, but for now, they’re more or less what their record says they are: a middling team off to a slow start.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all been bad! Our writers have found plenty to be positive about. Here’s what they had to say.

Wendi Hansen: Giving our rookies the chance to shine

The season so far has been...interesting? As any Packers fan will know, slumps happen. Injuries and bad calls and missed field goal attempts (sorry, Mason, we still love you) happen. It’s part of the ebb and flow of the game. There still is a lot of time to bounce back and get our footing, but in the meantime, one of the silver linings to this crazy start is that our rookies have been given the chance to prove themselves.

With both Cobb and Allison out, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown were ushered into a ready-or-not scenario, one that they executed in a big way. I’m excited to see how their chemistry with Aaron Rodgers continues to evolve and grow, hopefully cementing a stronger offensive line.

Shawn Wagner: Aaron Rodgers is still on the field

A 2-2-1 record is far from what I expected when the Packers played the grand majority of their starters and looked fabulous in preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was a lot of promise from the new offensive weapons, while the defense looked rejuvenated and the team as a hole avoided the major injury bug. In week one, the injury situation immediately took a turn for the worse when Rodgers appeared to suffer a significant injury. Fortunately, he was able to return by the end of halftime.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to say Rodgers has not played as expected despite the injury. He’s been far too hesitant, leading to sacks and fumbles as a result. His accuracy has been extremely inconsistent and I’m not sure it’s entirely because of his knee. The system looks faulty and there have been injuries to the receivers Rodgers is most accustomed to playing with. Most concerning is he is missing open receivers.

But the silver lining is that Rodgers is still able to give it a go and his performance even in a loss is still more valuable than anything DeShone Kizer or Tim Boyle can bring to this team. If anyone can sort through the offensive mess that has been the first five weeks of the season and rebound, it’s Rodgers. If he can correct some of his own glaring miscues and get some help from the line and young receivers, Green Bay is still a playoff-caliber squad and a serious contender in the NFC North.

The fact that the Packers have played as miserably as they have and are still in the hunt for the division must actually be rather scary for the rest of those teams. If the Packers were going to tie any team on the schedule, the Vikings would probably be the one you’d choose.

Evan “Tex” Western: A couple of the rookie wideouts are looking good

The Packers tripled up on the wide receiver position on the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft, and so far the second and third of those players are flashing signs that they will become productive players for this team later this season and in the future. Although J’Mon Moore has yet to really break into the lineup at all, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown have impressed, particularly in recent weeks.

MVS has taken a firm hold of the WR4 job, and his special teams ability (particularly as a gunner on the punt team) has been one of his best qualities. He seemed to be the most raw of the three coming in, but he has clearly established himself as the most trustworthy of the three and got starter-level snaps on offense over the past few games with some of the veteran options injured. He caught his first long ball in Washington,

Then, EQ got on the field against the Lions in week five and impressed in his 60 snaps, capping off his day with this ridiculous catch-and-run for 54 yards. Given that performance and workload, I’m certain that the reason Moore had been active over EQ in past weeks was special teams-related; St. Brown didn’t really play special teams at all at Notre Dame and he didn’t really get any snaps there in the preseason either. But the rotation clearly goes MVS, EQ, and J’Mon on offense, and the flashes of ability that we’ve seen from those top two are getting me excited.

Mike Vieth: The defense keeps getting better

After an okay start to the season, the Packers defense really has played well the last two weeks. Every defense, with a new coordinator, will go through some growing pains when the season starts. That was definitely true for Mike Pettine’s squad the first three weeks as we saw them struggle from time to time but also flashed some of the potential to be really good.

These past two weeks, I think we’ve seen the defense get more comfortable with Pettine’s calls and schemes. They shut out Buffalo and only gave up 145 total yards and caused three turnovers. Some might scoff and say that it was because of Buffalo, anytime you can hold an offense to that few of yards, it’s a major step in the right direction.

Now, getting to the improvement even with the loss to Detroit. I can hear some of you groaning, “how can you improve with giving up 31 points and a loss?” Well, while they did give up 31 points, I consider it only 14 points. They gave up two long drives that were completely on them but the other points, they had the odds stacked against them.

The other three scores happened after turnovers and gave the Lions the ball inside the Packers 30 yard line. Those quick changes have been a nightmare for defenses throughout the NFL in 2018. There have been 69 quick changes so far this year (not counting when teams taking a knee at the end of the game) and offenses have a 88.4% score rate when they happen. Of those scores, 55.7% have been touchdowns. Asking any defense to stop a team from that distance after a big momentum shift is near impossible.

The game also saw the Packers go against a much better offense than they saw in Buffalo. Matthew Stafford has the ability and the receivers to throw the ball all over the field and they held him to only 183 passing yards. Stafford has averaged 278 yards passing a game over his career and keeping him under 200 yards is a solid game. The Packers also held the Lions to only 94 yards on the ground.

This is a big step in the right direction as the season goes on and playing against a struggling 49ers offense on Monday night should give them even more confidence going into the bye week. They’re going to need it as they face the two offenses that can be explosive in the Rams and Patriots after the week off.

Bob Fitch: NFC North is still up for grabs

I didn’t think we’d be where we are after five weeks, but that’s the way the cookie - and the relationship between your star quarterback and the head coach - crumbles. I kid, of course, because nobody outside of Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers truly knows how their relationship is, but needless to say the 2018 season has been a strange one.

The Packers have managed to come away with 2.5 wins in 3 weeks are only one game back in the win column in the NFC north, which is isn’t ideal but due to the up and down play of every other deam in the division, they are still in the hunt for a division title. Minnesota’s defense has taken a leap back, and Chicago has beaten a softer schedule than my pillow with wins against the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Buccaneers, so it remains to be seen how truly good they are yet. Regardless, Green Bay will have to play better than they have so far in order to come away with a Division title, but at least they haven’t played themselves out of one yet.

Matub: Seeing a burner with the number 83

Anyone who has spent a modicum of time on this site knows my love for one Jeffery Ronald Janis. My tombstone will say “Big, Tall, and Fast will always translate to special teams”. So when the Packers drafted Marquez Valdes-Scantling and gave him the number 83, I was elated. I never expected MVS to come out as a guns-blazing rookie and do much with his first year. I wanted him to be a punt gunner and maybe a kick returner.

However, seeing him already showing more promise in the regular season than we saw out of the last 83 has been great. MVS could really become the vertical threat that’s been missing. Top flight corners are already learning to respect his speed.

Peter Bukowski: Cornerstone pieces stepping forward

We knew Davante Adams was good, but he’d never had to actually carry a passing offense. It turns out, not only can he put the team on his back, he could be shouldering even more of a burden than he does. We knew David Bakhtiari was good. It turns out he’s the best pass-blocking left tackle in football. We knew Kenny Clark was good. It turns out (and if PFF is to be believed) he’s quietly become one of the most disruptive and impactful defensive linemen in the league.

Aaron Rodgers needs more than just his right arm and two legs. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about this team’s lack of talent, the blue chip players are stepping up this season around Rodgers. By the end of the season we could be adding Jaire Alexander into that mix. Josh Jackson isn’t far behind, and if Kevin King can stay on the field, he has serious upside. Geronimo Allison isn’t just the “next man up,” he’s a legitimately dangerous passing target. And the Packers appeared to have something with their rookie receivers as has been noted above.

Despite the inconsistencies and execution problems, it’s clear there’s building blocks both for the present and the future. And unfortunately for the Packers (and Rodgers in particular) the cupboard had been too bare the last few years. That change should give Green Bay fans hope.

Paul Noonan: New Stars

To remain competitive you need to churn out a new star every now and then, and I think that both Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson have star potential. Along with the still-very-young Kenny Clark, the defense actually has some nice looking cornerstones to build around. Alexander in particular strikes me as a difference maker already, and as he gains more experience he should be able to handle the Revis role. Pettine needs guys like this to function, and the front office did a nice scouting job. The defense has been better than their numbers indicate, and I suspect in the second half of the season, if health permits it, they will round into a top-10 unit. Once they finally get around to replacing the outside linebackers, they should be officially dangerous. Now if the offense can just catch up...