Today’s Wednesday Walkthroughs takes a look back at the first quarter of the Green Bay Packers’ season. There have been plenty of surprises through four games — a 3-1 record is probably one of them for most people — but which is the best unexpected quality or circumstance?
A handful of APC’s writers weigh in on this issue this afternoon. Whether it’s the play of a young punter who looks even younger, the team’s approach to the football on defense, or some of the offseason additions exceeding expectations, there are lots of things to be excited about in Green Bay through four weeks.
Jon Meerdink - JK Scott
Everything about JK Scott screams pre-made folk hero. From his gangly frame to his semi-dopey expression to his weirdly flexible lower body, he looks like he has no business being anywhere near a professional football team, yet he plays a crucial role.
Last year, he was an amusement. This year, he’s a weapon. That he’s kicking the laces clean off the ball while still looking like a guy who begins every sentence with the word “golly” is an awesome bonus to a guy I already enjoyed watching.
Paul Noonan - Safeties
The safeties were SO bad in 2018 and even with the addition of Adrian Amos an improvement of this magnitude seemed unlikely. Instead, he and Darnell Savage have been as good as any duo in the league with Amos excelling as a sure tackler and run-stopper and Savage flying around everywhere he is needed. Even Raven Greene showed up nicely before he was unfortunately lost for the season.
Having competent safeties in the back makes everyone better as corners no longer have to worry about whether their help is in the right place, and can react accordingly. Savage and Amos have helped the pass defense to finally function as a seamless unit.
Evan “Tex” Western - Defense forcing fumbles
I am pleased about the Packers’ ability to get to the quarterback this season, but that does not come as a huge surprise to me. I felt that Preston Smith would be a perfect fit as an edge rusher in this defense and I liked the inside-outside versatility that Za’Darius Smith brings. Likewise, I expected the Packers’ defense to be more effective in attacking the football in the air, forcing bad throws because of the pass rush and having a talented secondary group coming up with big interceptions.
No, what is impressive and surprising to me so far this season is how good the Packers have been at punching out the football.
For years, Charles Tillman was a menace to the Packers and the rest of the NFC North. Peanut was the best at attacking the football, recording an absolutely ridiculous 44 forced fumbles in 13 NFL seasons. He actually hit double digits in 2012 and had six seasons with at least four. Now, the Packers appear to be channeling their inner Peanut, as they have forced five fumbles through four games (with opponents also fumbling twice unforced) and recovered four of them. Those five forced fumbles have come from five different players as well, a sign that this is a systematic focus by Mike Pettine and his coaching staff that has translated to the players on the field.
The Packers’ four fumble recoveries now rank fifth in the NFL and the team ranks sixth in total turnovers forced with eight, and the turnovers are a huge reason why the defense locked down victories in the first three games.
Wendi Hansen - JK Scott
Jk Scott is that guy we all knew in high school who was slightly awkward, didn’t know what to do with his hands in photos (I feel you there, buddy) and stood in the corner of the room during parties eating cheese (also a relatable statement). But when Scott steps onto the field, all of that awkwardness disappears and he does SERIOUS damage.
He’s learned a lot since last year, and is an absolute force when it comes to kicking the living ish out of the ball. Let’s not forget he became the first punter in team history to register a punt of 58-plus yards in his first three NFL games. This Packers unlikely but welcomed weapon has been a pleasure to watch by golly, and I’m looking forward to seeing that continue as we move into the rest of the 2019 season.
Kris Burke - Preston Smith
By now we have all fallen head over heels in love with both Smiths but way back in March I for one at least assumed it would the Smith Za’Darius doing the bulk of the pass rush generation with the Smith Preston playing more of a complementary role.
Instead they’ve become a true dynamic duo and both have become a force to be reckoned with. They even do their press conferences together. The Packers haven’t had this talented of a pass rushing duo in a long time. Clay Matthews was effective on his own for a few years but he never really had a partner of his own though the Packers definitely tried with limited success to get Nick Perry to serve that role. The presumption was Za’Darius was signed to replace Matthews and Preston was signed to be the alternate so to speak.
Instead, by aggressively pursuing the free agent market, general manager Brian Gutekunst finally got the Packers not just one but two talented pass rushers that are just entering their physical prime. I don’t think anyone realized how good both Smiths would be immediately and I am happy to have been wrong.