The NFC playoff field is looking pretty tough. Top to bottom, every team in the group presents unique challenges that the Packers — assuming they lock up a playoff spot — will be hard pressed to overcome.
How, then, will they win in the postseason? Here’s what our writers think they need to do.
Evan “Tex” Western - Hit on the big plays they have been missing
The Packers’ offense isn’t that far away. Matt LaFleur has been scheming players open, especially on deep shot plays, but for some reason, the Packers cannot execute those plays with any consistency. That problem reared its ugly head on Sunday against Washington, as Aaron Rodgers was unable to connect on deep throws to Jimmy Graham early and Aaron Jones later on in the game.
LaFleur mentioned the Jones play in particular, saying that the running back released inside when he should have released to the sideline. Meanwhile, one could blame the incompletion to Graham on any number of people: Rodgers for missing the throw, LaFleur for dialing up the shot to a no-longer-athletic tight end, or Graham himself for not trying to extend for the football. If those plays go for completions, that’s another 65 passing yards — at a minimum — and two drives extended, one of which would have put the ball in the red zone.
It is this inconsistent execution that I find most frustrating and most concerning as the Packers approach the postseason. When you do have an opportunity for a big play against a really good team, you absolutely have to capitalize, because you often do not get more than one or two chances for these types of chunk plays in a postseason game. Letting a deep ball to an open receiver fall incomplete can very easily be the difference between a win or a loss in a tight playoff game.
Paul Noonan - Get lucky, and also fundamentally change their defensive philosophy.
I would also add “sign better wide receivers” but that’s unlikely. Instead, let’s focus on what could actually happen. The defense is already talented enough to be actually good if they can get the middle of the field under control and stop getting outwitted by smarter coaches, of which the playoffs will have many. The Washington game was a night start although we can’t underestimate the role Washington played in it. If the defense can turn it on, perhaps driven by an apparently healthy Kenny Clark and maybe some better speed at ILB from Oren Burks or Ibraheim Campbell, it could theoretically carry their rather pedestrian offense.
They should also go all out for a first round bye to help the luck component, because the best thing that could possibly happen is to have someone else knock off the 49ers. The more good teams that bow out early, the better it is for GB. Matchups are everything.
Jon Meerdink - Ride or die with Aaron Jones
The Packers are pretty light on offensive difference makers. Their defense seems just as likely to make a difference for the other team as for the Packers. To win a playoff game, then, I think the Packers have to lean heavily on Aaron Jones, the one player who has shown himself capable of consistently tilting the field for the Packers.
To win in the playoffs, I think the Packers have to do whatever they can to get the ball to Jones in high-leverage situations. Whether that’s by running Matt LaFleur’s typical wide zone plays, splitting him out wide, or targeting him in the screen game, the Packers need to feed Jones and then feed him some more.
I’d always rather see the Packers fall in a blaze of glory then just put up a humdrum effort and meekly back out. If Aaron Jones touches the ball 35 times and they still lose, they’ll at least have gone out having tried their darnedest to get their most effective offensive player involved.
Peter Bukowski - Stick to their identity
This may seem counter-intuitive for a team struggling to find consistency, but when the Packers have been at their best this season it’s executed on their stated identity, not trying to assuage the quarterback’s old favorite concepts, or catering to a defensive philosophy that doesn’t fit personnel. Aaron Jones as the focal point of the offense, including and especially in the passing game, with shot plays over the top gives the Packers the best chance to score points consistently.
Mixing coverages, disguising, and judiciously blitzing — especially on early downs — offers the Packers a pathway to pressures, sacks, and turnovers. When they’ve strayed from these philosophies, the offense bogs down and the defense hemorrhages yards. If they try to play thee McCarthy offense, often part of plan on what they call “catch up” plays, there’s not enough talent on the edges to make it work. And when the defense tries to play simple football, not disguising or bringing pressure, they’re not executing well enough to get through the game that way.
High-variance, aggressive football is how they got to 10-3. It’s how they can win in the playoffs too.