Welcome to the Jungle!
The Green Bay Packers will take the field in Cincinnati this week against a surprising 3-1 Bengals squad that has already faced two other members of the NFC North - winning against Minnesota and losing an ugly game to Chicago. Without the injured Jaire Alexander in coverage, one of the keys to the game might be how well the Packers’ secondary holds up against Joe Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who has hauled in a pass play of 34 yards or more in each game thus far. Still, the Bengals have been slow-starters in the early part of this season.
Today’s musings detail those first-quarter stat lines for each team, but cover the Packers’ offensive blocking in depth. In fact, today’s article leads off with one of the league’s emerging blocking weapons, Allen Lazard.
Allen Lazard has impacted the passing game, but not necessarily as a pass-catcher
Green Bay highly values blocking from its wide receivers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s efforts were highlighted in one of last season’s musings articles. As MVS has battled injuries so far in the young season, another player has stepped up and earns his own recognition this particular Friday.
Two weeks ago against San Francisco, Allen Lazard helped create an eye-catching easy goal-line touchdown for Davante Adams as shown in the tweet video below. It was only a precursor to what was to come against Pittsburgh.
You'll see this play 100Xs today and @RossUglem did a great side-by-side with the play that set it up.— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) September 27, 2021
But watch Allen Lazard here. After they get the switch, Josh Norman is expecting the push pass to the opposite side. W/ Lazard blocking, Norman has no shot here. pic.twitter.com/3DsBsMDvCi
A week later, Lazard continued to create impact plays for the Packers’ offense as an elite blocker. In the first quarter, a much lighter Lazard took on Pro Bowler T.J. Watt and screened him off, allowing Aaron Jones to scamper for a first down on third-and-short as seen below.
Last week, he got enough of Nick Bosa to spring Aaron Jones for a TD. This week, he seals TJ Watt so Jones can convert on third down.— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) October 4, 2021
Allen Lazard is not just the best blocking WR in the league, he's the most versatile. He is so valuable to this offense. pic.twitter.com/oLAYJuCcQ2
A few minutes later in the quarter, with less than two minutes to play, the Iowa State product was seen chipping in on a double-team against a defender after a quick screen to Adams. He then moved on to another defender on the outside, almost single-handedly paving the way for Adams to get five or six yards out of the play.
One quarter later, Lazard was back at it again, walling off a defender on the boundary and getting in the way of another as Jones was able to pick up 15 yards on a stretch play. While Lazard has only five catches for 91 yards so far this season, he has been a part of numerous plays as a blocker that have sprung his teammates for chunk gains and made him one of the most outstanding blocking receivers in the NFL on a game-to-game basis.
Allen Lazard might be the best blocking WR in the NFL pic.twitter.com/hawFWRgftH— packers clips (@packers_clips) October 3, 2021
The Packers’ tight end depth is being tested
Last season, Green Bay’s group of tight ends may have been among the best in the league. Beyond Robert Tonyan’s breakout season, the Packers received a high level of leadership and blocking from Marcedes Lewis, as well as a diamond-in-the-rough performance from undrafted rookie Dominique Dafney. They even had two former third-round picks waiting in the wings as Josiah Deguara was recovering from injury and Jace Sternberger was still developing. After a year with enviable talent at the position, Green Bay finds itself in a more difficult position early in 2021.
Sternberger is no longer a member of the team. Dafney landed on injured reserve about two weeks ago and his loss as a blocker in the H-back role has been noticeable. Deguara has shown plenty of inconsistency after being touted as the next Kyle Juszczyk. While the Packers are still receiving some positive results from Tonyan and Lewis, it has been shaky without Dafney.
Filling in, Deguara had a tough first half against Pittsburgh. First, he was shredded in a run-blocking effort against Alex Highsmith on the team’s opening drive. The missed block resulted in no gain on a toss play to the outside on 2nd-and-3, and eventually the lost play led to a sack the very next play on third down, moving the Packers outside field goal range. Then, early in the second quarter, the Packers had a great offensive opportunity in Pittsburgh territory after the defense forced a fumble. On the very first play of the drive, a pass to Jones went for about seven yards, but an unnecessary block-in-the-back penalty on Deguara at the end of the play pushed the team back 10 yards. Fortunately, the Packers were still able to get into the end zone on that drive.
Green Bay will be without their unheralded gem Dafney for at least another game, but their undrafted rookie seems to be a more trustworthy fit for the offense at this current time than the team’s third-rounder from last year.
Winning the first quarter is critical for the Packers against Cincinnati
Green Bay’s luck on the road in Cincinnati has not been great, with the Packers losing four of those five contests since beginning their trips in 1976. However, if the Green & Gold is to reverse its luck this time around, the first quarter may play a pivotal role.
The Bengals have gotten off to slow starts through four games, averaging just 2.6 yards per rush and 6.3 yards per passing attempt in the first quarter. They have only nine first downs combined in the opening period, to go along with just seven total points. Joe Burrow’s lowest quarterback rating has come in the first quarter this season. By contrast, the first quarter has largely been one of the Packers’ best quarters. To compare stat lines, the offense has generated 3.0 yards per rush, 9.0 yards per passing attempt, and 17 first downs. It is Aaron Rodgers’ best quarter by quarterback rating, according to Pro Football Reference.
While the Packers may have an advantage offensively compared to the Bengals, the defense leaves some questions about how much the overall advantage may be. An injury-riddled defense has battled inconsistency throughout the season, but especially in the first quarter of ball games. For each of those same statistics listed above, the Packers’ defense has been nearly at its worst in the first quarter before settling in later. Green Bay has a lot to figure out defensively with its new additions and subtractions from the past week, but to defeat Cincinnati, the stats show it is probably in the team’s best interest to win the coin toss and get out to an early lead.