I feel like in any given Green Bay Packers game, I usually have a pretty good idea about the range of potential outcomes, but this one has been bothering me, and I figured out why. The Rams obviously have a very good defense, and there have been a few instances this season, against Tampa Bay and Carolina specifically, when the Packer offense has struggled against good defenses. Green Bay hasn’t struggled against every good defense, as they lit up the Saints in week 3 and had absolutely no issues with the Bears, caveat being that they are the Bears.
That said, I wonder what would have happened had the Packers played Tampa before playing the Saints, giving the Saints a chance to pick up the template. And I wonder if Carolina put such a smart game plan together because, being in the same division as Tampa, they are intimately familiar with how the Bucs operate and had that extra studying pay off. Before we go any further, read this from Doug Farrar, because his post gives the specifics for how the Panthers and Bucs stopped the Packers. It’s mostly about using deception to disguise the rush and coverage schemes, creating doubt in Rodgers, and beating him up. Both Carolina and Tampa pressured and sacked Rodgers more than any other team, with Carolina getting 5 sacks and Tampa registering 4. No other team got to Rodgers more than twice this year.
All of that said, the Packers aren’t run by a bunch of morons, especially on offense where they have a pretty great coach and a hall of fame quarterback. I suspect the offense will be better, relatively, against the Rams than they were against Carolina or Tampa even if they are still slowed a bit. We’ve written here about templates the Packers can use to combat the Rams defense as well, and I’m sure they ill leave no stone unturned.
What’s been bothering me though, isn’t the offense. I trust that LaFleur and Rodgers will do a halfway decent job there. What’s bothering me is that even if they don’t, the Packers should still win anyway because Jared Goff is injured and terrible, and Mike Pettine’s defense should get the job done.
“Mike Pettine’s defense should get the job done.”
Just writing that sentence gives me the willies.
In Pettine We Trust?
On the last episode of the Reporting As Eligible podcast, we had a listener ask:
“How much of the difference between the Packers’ defense and the Rams’ defense is talent, and how much is coaching? Another way to put this: how good would each defense be if they traded coordinators?”
This question has been driving me nuts, because I actually think the Packers’ personnel might be better than the Rams’. I know that sounds nuts, but although Aaron Donald is clearly and obviously the best defensive player in this game and likely in the league, Kenny Clark is pretty good in his own right, Jaire Alexander is just as good, and maybe a little better than Jalen Ramsey, and I will take Za’Darius Smith over Leonard Floyd. Green Bay’s other corners aren’t as good as LA’s, but overall, it’s much closer than the results on the season would indicate. The biggest differences are pretty obviously scheme and coaching.
The Packer defense has been better of late, including an incredible performance against Tennessee, but I still don’t think they’re as good as they should be given the talent they have. The Packers had a fairly easy schedule on the back half, and while they have faced some good offenses in that timeframe, Pettine hasn’t really run into a particularly smart offensive coordinator in a long while. Depending on your read on Titans OC Arthur Smith, the last time it happened was probably against the Colts and Frank Reich, which did not go well for the Packer defense. Prior to that it was probably Arians and Tampa, and Sean Payton and the Saints, and that didn’t go particularly well either.
I did cheat a bit in skipping Kyle Shanahan, as the Packers completely shut down the 49ers, however that game comes with all sorts of caveats. The 49ers were missing, well, pretty much everyone. Their leading receiver in the game was Richie James, who gained 184 of his 394 total season yards against Green Bay. Nick Mullens was the quarterback and Jerick McKinnon actually had surprising success on the ground. In any case, despite a few good individual performances by San Francisco, Pettine’s guys were still up to the task.
Sean McVay isn’t as good an offensive mind as Kyle Shanahan, but he’s close, and certainly more than capable of running circles around Mike Pettine in a vacuum. He’s more like Frank Reich (Colts) and Shanny (49ers) than he is like Darrell Bevell (Lions) or Gary Kubiak (Vikings). So for me, this game really comes down to just how hobbled they are on offense. The Rams’ defensive coordinator is Brandon Staley, who took over for Wade Philips, and it’s hard to say he’s done anything other than a brilliant job. He can probably coach LaFleur to a draw. McVay though, is a mismatch.
The key Rams on offense are Goff and slot receiver Cooper Kupp. Goff isn’t good, but when healthy he’s often good enough. He recently had surgery to repair a broken thumb, and he looked like a guy with a broken thumb last week against Seattle. If Lambeau is cold, that won’t help matters for him. Kupp suffered a bizarre non-contact knee contusion last week, which I’ve never heard of before, and frankly seems impossible. He sat out practice all week, but the Rams indicated that he will play despite a questionable tag on the injury report. The Rams are a completely different team with and without Kupp, and his health is probably the single biggest fact in determining just how effective McVay’s scheme can be.
What this comes down to for me is the following equation.
Packers win if: LaFleur = Staley, Pettine > McVay - (.5*Goff) - (.5*Kupp)
How big does that Pettine number need to be?
That is what has been keeping me up at night.