For the first quarter, Sunday’s tilt between the Green Bay Packers and Washington looked very much like a 9-3 playing a 3-9 squad with a rookie quarterback. Green Bay led 14-0, hadn’t allowed a Washington first down, and harassed Dwayne Haskins. For most of the rest of the game, neither team looked particularly polished or effective, and Matt LaFleur’s team merely survived a game effort from an undermanned opponent 20-15.
“Although we are definitely happy we won, it felt like we left a lot out there today,” LaFleur said after the game, pre-empting questions from reporters with that statement.
“We’ll never apologize for winning … but you always want to go out there and put your best performance out there.”
Clearly he and the Packer see what happened Sunday is fortunate—they won—but not good enough moving forward, particularly on offense. In order to ‘put its best performance out there,’ the offense will have to figure out why it can look unstoppable early before giving way to consternation and lulls in production. Aaron Rodgers carried a passer rating over 150 into the second quarter, ending the game under 100 with two missed opportunities at touchdowns to wide-open receivers. This troubling trend goes back to the Mike McCarthy era where the team would start red hot and go ice cold for stretches allowing teams to hang around.
To wit, the Packers lost the final three quarters 15-6 against a three-win team who couldn’t tie its own shoes at times this season. Pre-snap penalties dog this team with no sign of abating. We still see too many missed assignments, mental errors, missed throws, and questionable coaching decisions for a team fancying itself a Super Bowl contender.
We can’t only call out the bad though, not with Aaron Jones putting up up 192 total yards, a count that exceeded the entire Washington team before the final drive of the game. Jones put up 134 yards on the ground in 16 carries with a score, adding 58 yards on six catches including a gorgeous 25-yarder down the right sideline in the fourth quarter.
Featuring Jones, in the run and pass game, represents the only failsafe for this offense right now. When in doubt, feed the sombrero, a key advantage for when the Packers face adversity down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Along with Jones, the play of the Packers defense stood out on Sunday after some sloppy performance in the middle of the year. Haskins and the Washington offense came into Lambeau last or nearly last in just about every relevant offensive category despite a more even performance last week against the Panthers.
That battle ended the way one might expect, with a dominant performance from the Green Bay front led by Za’Darius Smith and Kenny Clark. Mike Pettine dialed up free rushers and amped up the blitz pressure compared to recent weeks, creating near constant strife for the rookie and leading to four sacks and eight hits.
With Kevin King and Tony Brown out, Pettine faced the decision of whether or not to use Jaire Alexander as Terry McLaurin’s shadow. The ultra-talented second-year corner took on the challenge, forcing McLaurin to take the collar in the first half on three attempts and the Packers defense locked down this passing game, one that finished with just 170 yards from Haskins. McLaurin caught a touchdown late to alter the aesthetics of the game, but not its outcome.
In fact, the only touchdown drive of the game came thanks to the legs of Adrian Peterson and Darrius Guice, who’d later leave the game with injury. Haskins went down awkwardly in the second quarter, then the team ran seven straight runs en route to a touchdown drive capped with a Peterson scoring dive.
A week after stifling Daniel Jones, forcing three interceptions, the Green Bay defense seems to be getting right and fighting the right mix of coverage and pressure. They’ll need to carry over that level of play to close the season with three divisional opponents on deck in must win games for playoff seeding.
Other teams in the battle for the NFC top playoff seeds faced their version of the NFC East respite already, including Green Bay’s top NFC North contender. For a stretch, the Bears played like a team who belonged in this conversation as well, but a win over the Cowboys on Thursday signaled a resurgence of a kind from the defending division champs. They’ll come to the frozen tundra next week with a renewed spirit and energy to knock off their rivals. Still, it’s a game the Packers will be expected to win, an imperative if they want one of those first-round byes.
Getting to 10 wins all but assures LaFleur’s team of a playoff berth, a feat no rookie Packers coach in team history has accomplished. His task now will be to keep this team focused with a monster tilt in Minnesota looming. The team’s mantra has been the cliched 1-0 approach. Banking wins helps with playoff seeding to be sure, but rounding into form as January approaches can often prove to be the more elusive accomplishment.