It’s been a long two weeks since the Green Bay Packers last took the field, but the wait for their playoff run to begin is almost over.
A date with the Los Angeles Rams awaits first on Saturday afternoon, a matchup of the top scoring offense and defense in the league. Still, one of the most important battles might be on the other side of the ball with the Packers’ tacklers against the Rams’ potent after-the-catch receivers.
Today’s pre-Divisional Round musings lay out just how dangerous those pass-catchers are, while taking a look back at a mind-boggling Rams loss this season and the Packers’ missed opportunities against Chicago that could prove pivotal in the postseason.
Lessons can be learned from the Jets’ monumental upset of the Rams
The New York Jets finished the season 2-14 but were in serious jeopardy of going 0-16 until they defeated the Rams in Week 15. The Jets’ 23-20 win was one of the more memorable non-Packers games of the season for the casual fan, but plenty of things went badly for Los Angeles that Green Bay can learn from.
For instance, pressure up front was an integral factor. Jared Goff was sacked three times and hit eight times, with Quinnen Williams recording two sacks in the first half alone. New York had five tackles for loss while limiting the rushing game, which has been emerging behind Cam Akers in recent weeks, to just 3.8 yards per carry. With an injured thumb already hindering Goff, increased pressure could be paramount in making him unsettled. If Kenny Clark can take on the role of Williams in making his presence known in the middle on Saturday, that should only free up the edge rushers and exotic blitzes that Mike Pettine dials up.
Another key to the Jets’ victory was third-down conversions. New York finished 7-for-17 in that regard, with three drives of more than 10 plays. As a result, the Rams’ stingy defense got tired, while their offense never got into a third-down rhythm of their own. For Green Bay, a team that leads the NFL in third-down conversion rate this season, that could be some good news ahead of a difficult matchup.
The Rams may be one of the most polarizing teams in the playoff field depending on which team comes to play. Their performance against the Jets is one of those games in which they certainly did not appear as dangerous.
Green Bay’s tackling will be critical in facing two excellent YAC receivers
With the Packers offense-Rams defense matchup garnering many of the storylines this week, it can be easy to forget about the exact opposite battle. One of the challenges facing Green Bay’s defense will be wrapping up Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods immediately after the catch.
The two wide receivers have been killers from the slot. Kupp and Woods finished sixth and 11th in yards-after-the-catch in 2019, but have only improved during the 2020 campaign. Kupp tallied 533 YAC (fifth) this season, while Woods contributed another 486 (tied for ninth), and their success in this area has been an important part of the Rams’ offense for creating explosive plays. As much improvement as the Packers’ defense has showed in recent weeks, downfield tackling has still been a lingering issue at times, particularly from Kevin King on the boundary.
In order for the Packers to advance to the NFC Championship Game, Green Bay’s defense will need to lock down and prevent short catches from becoming game-changing ones. There may not be a true vertical threat on the Rams’ roster, but their attack beats defenses in a different way.
The Packers are as talented as ever this postseason, but can they take advantage of the small opportunities?
There is almost a fear to jinx this by saying it, but Green Bay’s chances of reaching the Super Bowl this season may be as high as they have ever been with Aaron Rodgers on the roster. The talent and depth are there for a run and the Packers have been much better at finishing games this season than in previous years. Still, when Green Bay’s offense has stalled in the third quarter, runaway games have become close ones. In short, the Packers cannot beat themselves.
The game against Chicago two weeks ago highlighted some of the simple mistakes and opportunities that could either put a team away or let them hang around.
- Ball security. Tavon Austin’s punt return fumble deep in Green Bay’s territory was an error that simply cannot happen in the playoffs. A fight for minimal yardage is not worth a possible turnover, especially if the defense is having trouble getting off the field.
- Unforced penalties. Za’Darius and Preston Smith have had their share of offsides penalties in trying to get a head start at the snap this season. But one of those penalties against Chicago wiped out a forced fumble later in the play that could have changed the complexion of the game. Aggressiveness from the defense is certainly welcome, but pre-snap discipline is just as important — even if it is only a five-yard consequence.
- Drops. Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s troubles with drops down the field do not need much further discussion, but his drop against the Bears could have effectively ended the game on the first drive of the second half. Converting those opportunities could be the difference in a playoff win or loss. Likewise, Kevin King’s dropped interception before halftime was a crucial play. Even though his vision may have been skewed with players in front of him, the ball cleanly reached King’s hands and should have been caught.
The Packers won the final game of the season and secured home-field advantage, but the game was much closer than it should have been due to small mistakes that eliminated great opportunities.