While the Green Bay Packers’ offense surely will have a real test this week against a dangerous Chicago defense, they couldn’t have asked for a better start to the Joe Philbin experiment.
Giving Atlanta’s defense numerous looks early in the game, Aaron Rodgers and company were able to dink-and-dunk early while opening up the playbook as the game wore on. And with Green Bay’s franchise quarterback looking as close to his old self as he has since the first half of week two against Minnesota, the Packers were able to build a near-insurmountable lead by the end of the third quarter and cruise to a victory. But will they be able to begin a winning streak?
Here are some Friday observations and items to ponder.
Packers will try once again to pick up back-to-back wins
If Green Bay can defeat Chicago this week, a team that it was 19-7 against during Mike McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers will achieve their first stretch of back-to-back wins in the 2018 season. A second-consecutive victory has evaded the Packers thus far, with Green Bay coming up especially just short in week two against Minnesota and week eight at Los Angeles. The Packers have tallied back-to-back wins at least once in each of the past 12 years, last failing to do so during their 4-12 season in 2005 that saw Mike Sherman get the boot.
Aaron Rodgers physically looked healthier than he has all season
To me, there was a noticeable pep in Rodgers’ step against Atlanta - one that we haven’t seen in quite some time.
Going back to the tape, I counted 10 times during the game in which Rodgers either was forced to elude the pass rush or side-step defenders in the pocket. That doesn’t even account for designed roll-outs. Some of those instances included long rushes after being flushed out of the pocket and even a third quarter underhand heave while being taken down to avoid a sack. Rodgers’ knee sure looked back to normal as he was able to tear away from defenders and quickly get into his old gear as a runner as seen in the video below.
Even on sacks, outside of the first one of the game in which Atlanta brought an untouched blitzer from the corner position, Rodgers put up an admirable fight in trying to escape. His mobility appears to be back.
Tempo led to offensive success
In Philbin’s first game calling the shots, there seemed to be an emphasis placed on quicker tempo and getting the offense into a rhythm early in the game.
After issues have been raised all season long with the Packers burning timeouts because of a dwindling play clock and looking unorganized at the line before the snap, Green Bay looked much more polished and aware of the game plan. Before purposely working the play clock around the midpoint of the fourth quarter, I counted just 11 plays in which the Packers snapped the ball with five seconds or less remaining. There were no delay of game penalties. There were no wasted timeouts. The Packers even almost got a “free play” after Rodgers made a defensive lineman jump on the hard count but made contact to attract a whistle. Those opportunities have been much fewer this season as the Packers have struggled with tempo, but they made a return Sunday.
As far as rhythm goes, Green Bay’s first drive established just that. A nine-play, 75-yard drive resulted in a touchdown as the Packers took advantage of quick plays and never took the play clock lower than seven seconds. Green Bay opened with two quick passes to the outside with Equanimeous St. Brown before opening up the middle on a quick throw to Randall Cobb. They then tried to stretch the field with a playaction call and an isolated downfield pass to Davante Adams. The Packers then went with the running game on two of the next three plays with another quick screen to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in between. A quick slant to MVS drew a penalty before Rodgers completed a quick-hitter to Adams on the outside for a score.
The Packers’ quick-strike passing game, mixed in with deeper shots and running plays, kept Atlanta very off guard on an up-tempo opening drive. Perhaps most importantly, the Packers got Rodgers and his top four wide receivers involved early and often.