If there’s anything dependable about the NFL, it’s that it’s consistently surprising, especially early in a given season. The Packers are no exception to this rule. Despite the many familiar elements of this year’s team (Aaron Rodgers being great, Davante Adams getting open on a slant, Mike McCarthy calling a screen that goes nowhere on third and long), there are more than a few surprises.
Here are our biggest surprises of the year so far. What are yours?
Evan “Tex” Western: Tight end usage
So many articles were written this summer about the Packers’ expected usage of the 12 package -- one running back and two tight ends. I, for one, thought we would see a lot of Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis on the field together with Graham as a de facto wideout and Lewis on the end of the line of scrimmage.
Instead, on the rare occasions when the Packers have used 12 personnel, it has mostly been Lance Kendricks on the field instead of Lewis. Kendricks has logged 46 snaps through two games to Lewis’ 21, with Graham well out in front at 117. For all the talk about Lewis’ blocking ability, the team appears to prefer to use Kendricks as a hybrid tight end/fullback, giving him plenty of snaps in the backfield as a lead blocker. Perhaps this is Mike McCarthy’s answer to Brian Gutekunst’s decision not to carry a fullback on the 53-man roster: use Kendricks in that role instead.
With that said, Geronimo Allison’s excellent start to the season has in part justified the Packers’ consistent usage of three wide receivers. Still, I would like to see more of Lewis in the coming weeks, particularly if and when the Packers face an opponent with a secondary heavy on corners and light on safeties.
Shawn Wagner: Geronimo Allison
Outside of the sheer surprise of the Packers having a tie on their record already in week two, the most surprising thing to me is the play of Geronimo Allison.
A smorgasbord of articles centered around the Packers inexperience at wide receiver heading into the regular season and many even forecasted Allison off the roster early in training camp. But after two very solid receiving performances and a blocked punt on special teams, where would the Packers be without him? Allison’s ability to go vertical, as well as work the field after the catch, has been a near-perfect complement to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Along with the surprise of Allison is the fact that none of the rookie receivers have come remotely close to displaying WR3 capability. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the only one of the three to register a reception through the first two weeks while Jimmy Graham picked up the receiving pace against Minnesota from the tight end position.
There’s a lot of season left, but Allison has a real shot to work his way into the receiving rotation for a lot more targets this year and going forward.
Bob Fitch: Jermaine Whitehead as a sub linebacker
Jermaine Whitehead playing linebacker reminds me a lot of the modern NBA. For those that don’t really follow the Association, the NBA has been drastically altering the traditional lineup structure and even positional names, going from a PG, SG, SF, PF and C to “Frontcourt” and “Backcourt.” Traditional big men can barely make a roster, and one of the most important players on a team is a “3-&-D wing,” something considered an infrequently used specialty only a few years ago.
Welcome, Jermaine Whitehead, to the modern NFL. Passing is king and running backs only provide real value when they run routes, so why would you stick with traditional defenses trying to cover modern offenses? That would be like putting a Model T in a drag race, or trying to meet new people at a soda shop while everyone else is at home swiping on Tinder. When asked to tackle, Whitehead has shown he’s more than capable, and having an extra cover man on the field should theoretically lower a QB’s completion percentage so a tackle isn’t even necessary. I’ll be curious to see how Whitehead’s season progresses, but so far Mike Pettine - who looks like the stereotypical TV version of a head coach - has shown he is willing to adapt to the times.
Jon Meerdink: Nothing from rookie receivers
The historical precedent for wide receivers contributing as rookies is not great. Even Antonio Brown, the gold standard for Day 3 receiver picks, managed just 167 yards on 16 catches as a rookie.
But even so, it’s been an unhappy surprise to see so little out of the Packers’ three rookie receivers through the first two weeks. J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown have just one catch between them. Valdes-Scantling is the only one who’s played a single snap on offense, and if it weren’t for a two-snap cameo on special teams by St. Brown, two of the three wouldn’t have stepped on the field at all.
This is almost certainly a result of playing against two top-notch defenses early in the season, but even so, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Wendi Hansen: A Tie? A TIE??!!
I’m still trying to slow my heart rate down after last week’s jaw-dropping and blood pressuring-rising game against the Vikings. Just when I didn’t think anything could top the Packers’ first game, week two rolls up and says, “Hold my beer.” It wasn’t necessarily the tie itself that surprised me, but the fact that through some missed opportunities and fault of our own (and some really shotty calls by the refs), we found ourselves praying for a missed field goal. We held our own against a very hard team, which is something to not be modest about, but in a game like that, every play counts. Another thing that wasn’t so much a surprise as it was a confirmation for me, Williams means business! And has moves like Jagger.