It might not have always been pretty through the first six games of the regular season, but the Green Bay Packers have found a way to surge to a 5-1 record. Through injuries, occasional offensive red zone miscues, and some early defensive problems, the Packers have navigated the beginning of the season with the type of resilience necessary for a championship-level team.
Injuries, in particular, have played a significant factor for the Packers, but the team’s depth has been able to withstand the challenge. Today’s musings discuss that depth, which was largely gathered via offseason moves by Brian Gutekunst and the front office, but also touch on a key red zone solution this past week and an incoming Washington Football Team with rumor-swirling storylines.
The Packers showed red zone creativity and a package that should stick
Against a pretty solid Chicago defense, Green Bay’s offense put together several impressive drives and seemingly hit their stride and gained control as the game moved along. After being hammered in the media for their red zone struggles the week before, the Packers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur moved swiftly to correct those concerns.
The touchdown shovel pass to Allen Lazard was not only successful on a short-yardage, third-and-goal down, it represented an upgrade in creativity - and a level that Mike McCarthy seemed often unwilling to go to when he was head coach. Since the Week 1 fiasco, the Packers’ offense has slowly dived deeper into the playbook with new concepts. While the shovel pass itself was intriguing, so was the formation it came from. Breaking out the “pony” package, the Green Bay offense came on to the field with two running backs - AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones. The Packers have utilized this package at times over the past three seasons as seen below, but not necessarily in the same way. On this specific play, Jones and Dillon were split out wide initially before Jones came in motion as a decoy. The creative twist led to another, with Lazard being on the receiving end of the type of pass usually designed for a Josiah Deguara-type tight end or H-back.
Jones and Dillon have opposing skillsets, but each have shown enough reliability as pass-catchers to earn more time on the field together. The “pony” package offers potential for both backs to be used as effective runners and receivers, but also allows for many other variations to keep defenses off balance. The touchdown was a surprising play last week, but there should be more to come from this package - as soon as this week against Washington.
#Packers broke out the 'Pony' Personnel for 4 snaps vs MIN...— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 18, 2019
Pony is a 2-back grouping w/ 2 tailbacks instead of traditional 2-back set with a RB/FB
Jones/Williams play off each other here w/ some eye candy... Good playside numbers for the screen TD!https://t.co/e24L8BeXpt pic.twitter.com/3RUWXKYXLo
Packers with the Pony package (2RB set) & Rodgers in shotgun. Running All-Go HB Seam to the left & Adams on a backside slant from Adams. LBs shift on the motion from Jones, which leaves a big space of green for Adams to attack. pic.twitter.com/G5azQDFB4z— Dusty, but Spookier (@DustyEvely) January 19, 2021
Allen Lazard Appreciation Post— PFF GB Packers (@PFF_Packers) October 20, 2021
Here’s his first TD of the season from last Sunday:pic.twitter.com/UJ7umGa6Zv
Green Bay’s offseason moves, including its draft picks, have paid early dividends
As the Packers hit the one-third mark of the season, they have not been content with their roster as is, making experienced additions the past two weeks to bolster their defense with Rasul Douglas, Jaylon Smith and Whitney Mercilus. Whether or not these lottery tickets eventually come to fruition will be a question that requires a few weeks to assess. But so far, the team’s prior offseason moves have played encouraging and important roles.
From a draft perspective, it has been a tale of two offseasons. The 2020 class provided minimal rookie contributions, with backup quarterback Jordan Love leading the way. Jon Runyan’s fill-in snaps on the offensive line and a snow-bowl performance from Dillon provided most of the memorable performances. However, through the first part of this season, the 2021 class has seen plenty of the field in their first season. With Jaire Alexander’s injury, the choice of Eric Stokes in round one has been invaluable for the secondary and Shemar Jean-Charles is slowly working his way into the action as well. Josh Myers and Royce Newman have combined for a number of starts for an oft-injured offensive line. Amari Rodgers has begun to see offensive snaps, while finally showing some promise as a punt returner this past week. Kylin Hill has earned kickoff reps and a few carries, while TJ Slaton has joined the defensive line rotation.
Green Bay did not make splashy external signings in free agency, but it is easy to forget the rather unexpected re-signing of Aaron Jones and how much of a catalyst he remains for the offense. Still, the signing of De’Vondre Campbell at inside linebacker has been stellar and the late training camp pickups of Isaac Yiadom and Corey Bojorquez have resulted in regular contributors. The Packers have had a number of injuries this season, but their offseason and late summer moves have provided enough depth to remain competitive.
The Washington Football Team may have distractions entering Sunday’s game
At 2-4, Washington is entering a pivotal game on the schedule this week as it looks to reverse its early fortunes. Veteran Dustin Hopkins was replaced by Chris Blewitt (still one of the best kicker names out there) as the WFT kicker this past weekend, but that might not be the only change on the horizon.
Reports over the past several days have indicated that Washington may be looking to upgrade its quarterback position. Taylor Heinicke has started five of the team’s six games this season, with the bearded Ryan Fitzpatrick making the other lone start. Help could be on the way in the form of former top-10 pick Tua Tagovailoa if multiple moves take place in the coming week. If DeShaun Watson is to be moved to Miami from Houston as rumors suggest, the Dolphins could look to move Tagovailoa after just 13 games in a corresponding trade. For a Washington team that struck out on Dwayne Haskins not too long ago, finding a franchise quarterback remains integral to the team’s ability to compete.
What kind of distraction will the quarterback rumors be for a team already looking for some midseason shake-ups? Couple this situation with the workplace culture investigation that may be further attended to by Congress and the road team has some extra considerations this week.