There were few positives in the Green Bay Packers’ 38-3 drubbing by the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. From start to finish, the Packers looked flat on all sides of the ball, even on a neutral field, as Aaron Rodgers failed to look like an MVP in his return to action.
If there is one great way to rebound from a disappointing season opener, it is to defeat a divisional opponent on home turf. The Packers will have that opportunity immediately this week as they face the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field in primetime. But only if they can keep the Lions’ new quarterback Jared Goff in check.
Today’s musings describe a few improvements the defense must make in order to earn their first victory of the season, along with one of the more surprising offensive details from Week 1.
It’s Jamaal Williams’ homecoming, but Aaron Jones needs to be the bellcow
The dancing and smiling Williams will make his first trip back to Lambeau Field without donning a green and gold uniform on Monday night. Hopefully for Packers fans, it will be more pre-game joy for Williams in front of the camera than in-game celebration. While there will be somewhat of a spotlight on Williams, his former teammate Aaron Jones is the player who needs to be the ultimate headline of the night.
Looking back on the disaster that was Week 1, one of the only things as surprising as the final score was the lack of touches for Jones. The Packers ran the ball a mere 15 times total during the game, but Jones had just five of those carries to go along with two receptions. Although the Packers had just three possessions in the first half and the final one was understandably pass-heavy with only a little over a minute remaining, they only handed the ball off to their prized re-signing twice. Both carries came on the opening drive before the Packers went to AJ Dillon for the second possession. After the Packers eventually trailed 24-3 in the second half, the run game was essentially finished.
As a whole, Green Bay struggled to run the ball, but Jones was never very involved in the game plan, including the passing game where his speed on swing passes and check downs is an asset when the play breaks down. The lack of success in those areas played a critical role in the Packers averaging under four yards gained on both first and third downs in the contest. The first-down struggles also contributed to an average of 8.4 yards to gain on third downs, making it difficult to sustain drives. For the Packers to correct those numbers against Detroit, Jones’ involvement early and often is an integral component.
The Packers’ defensive line continues to be an Achilles heel
In Green Bay’s defensive scheme, the defensive line positions, and ends in particular, are crucial to creating pass-rushing opportunities for the edge rushing linebackers. Without the more skilled pass-rushers at defensive end like those of a traditional 4-3 defense, being able to take on double-teams and close gaps in the running game becomes a must for the ends. For several years, the Packers have had trouble stopping the run with their front seven and the theme of that conversation has been to allow the run in order to stop the big passing game. However, in some of the Packers’ most humiliating losses, the inability to be even adequate against the run has stymied them. Sunday was no different.
The Packers simply must get more production from players such as Dean Lowry, Kingsley Keke, and Tyler Lancaster. The tweet below shows just how much the team’s line was bullied on one drive alone, while Alvin Kamara’s cutback touchdown near the goal line in the first half exposes Lowry even more.
Even Kenny Clark was double-teamed to perfection by the Saints for most of the game as the Packers were carved up by the run (171 yards), even against Jameis Winston, and fared just as poorly against the pass. In fact, the Saints’ success running the ball assisted them greatly on well-timed passing plays that made Winston look like an MVP quarterback.
If the Packers’ defense is going to rebound from this game, it is going to take high effort from its line. Rookies TJ Slaton and Jack Heflin showed promise in that area during the preseason while making occasional splash plays. The Lions surely will try to run the ball behind Williams and D’Andre Swift, who provide somewhat of a thunder-and-lightning combination. It might be a prove-it game coming up for Lowry and company against Detroit if they want to keep their snap counts. Otherwise, it could be a youth movement early on along the defensive line.
The Packers must keep Jared Goff mortal
Speaking of Jameis Winston, the quarterback paid tribute to his glory days as a Heisman Trophy Winner with a career-rejuvenating performance against Green Bay. On just 14 completions, he totaled five touchdowns and 148 yards, including a 55-yard scoring heave. On paper, the Packers are the more talented team Monday night, but that is only if the Packers can contain a similarly-talented Jared Goff to a more game-managing level as they did in the playoffs last year.
In the divisional round as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, Goff threw zero passes over 20 yards as the Packers held the Rams to 18 points. All but four of Goff’s 27 passes were of 10 yards or less, albeit without Cooper Kupp on the field. The Packers must work to duplicate that effort, even as Goff showed signs of pushing the ball downfield more often last week with his new team. With 13 passes over 20 yards in Week 1, Goff and the Lions will most likely look to take advantage of a vulnerable Kevin King on the outside with deeper routes.
Detroit had a breakout second half against San Francisco, accumulating 292 yards as Goff posted a 99.6 quarterback rating in a comeback effort. With the signal caller riding some momentum, the Packers must keep Goff more mortal than they did Winston.