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The Packers are in a very bad place despite their 3-2 record

Fortunate to be 3-2, the Packers do not show any signs of being a contender.

New York Giants v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

After an embarrassing loss to a depleted New York Giants team, the Green Bay Packers now must reckon with the fact that their season, from a Super Bowl aspirations perspective, has been a disaster. A 3-2 record isn’t the end of the world. As Tex and Justis touched on in the RePack post-game podcast, 3-2 wasn’t that far from what you’d expect given their matchups with Minnesota and Tampa Bay on the road. But it’s not the record that is the problem, it’s the circumstances and the performances.

If you are an ‘only thing that matters is wins and losses’ person, then this article is probably not for you. The Packers are 3-2 and currently sit as the seventh seed in the NFC, so it’s not like the season is over. If you’re looking for reasons for hope, you’re not going to find them here. If you’re looking for something to cheer you up, you’re not going to find that here. It is true the Packers could get out of whatever this funk is and start playing better and maybe (hopefully) this piece looks ridiculous in hindsight.

The first thing to acknowledge is that the Packers have played an easy schedule so far. Per Football Outsiders, they have faced the 11th easiest schedule, but even that understates it a little bit. Yes the Packers played Tampa Bay, but they did so against a Tampa team without any of their wide receivers nor a functioning offensive line. They played New England, but only with a third string quarterback. They played the New York Giants, but with an injured Daniel Jones, no wide receivers, and enough other injuries to fill the inactives report. The teams the Packers have played have largely not been that good this year, and the specific times that Green Bay played three of the five were incredibly advantageous.

One of the biggest concerns Green Bay faces right now is that their MVP quarterback is not playing like an MVP. For the Packers formula to be successful they needed one or both of the following to be true: Aaron Rodgers could overcome the loss of Davante Adams by running the offense in structure to a very high level and/or the defense would step up and be an elite unit. I will touch on the second part later, but the first part has not gotten off to a good start. Rodgers is 16th in EPA-per-dropback, a level similar to his 2015-2018 late-McCarthy era malaise (excusing an eight week run at the end of 2016). Rodgers average depth of target has moved up from league low to fourth lowest at 6.3 yards, but he leads the league in the percentage of his attempts going behind the line of scrimmage (26.2%). The next closest starter is Justin Fields at 21.6%. These passes have been only marginally successful, with Rodgers ranking 19th in yards per attempt.

And despite the modest efficiency on these pre-dominantly RPO/designed passes, the real problem is when Rodgers tries to throw down the field. Rodgers ranks 23rd in adjusted completion percentage (which counts drops as completions) and 26th in yards per attempt. Not every incomplete deep ball is a bad throw, but the fact that Green Bay cannot meaningfully threaten teams down the field is a real problem. The player they spent two second round picks on to fill that role, Christian Watson, is now dealing with his second hamstring and third lower body injury this season. Outside of Watson, the Packers have no players that have the speed that truly threatens teams downfield; no one with the type of speed that alters coverages and makes things easier for everyone else.

The most efficient place that Green Bay targets is the most efficient place to target in football: the intermediate routes. Rodgers leads the league in yards per attempt when targeting 10-20 yards downfield, but ranks dead last in the percentage of attempts targeting this area of the field. For his career, though, Rodgers has been quite reluctant to target this area of the field, something I have written about before. The place where Green Bay has been getting success is a place that Rodgers for years has been hesitant to target with regularity. If this does not change, it’s hard to see the passing game becoming more efficient with the loss of Davante Adams hurting particularly badly on throws near the sideline.

It’s not just the efficiency numbers that are beating up Rodgers either, though. PFF, which remained relatively high on Rodgers’ process even in the late-McCarthy years, ranks him 12th this year.

The Packers passing attack, as it currently exists, does not work. You cannot reasonably build an offense out of throws behind the line-of-scrimmage if you cannot also threaten the defense downfield. And if Rodgers isn’t going to target the middle of the field more often, Green Bay may be left without a place to turn to for efficient passing.

Another cause for concern in the passing game is the offensive line, which has been inconsistent. Elgton Jenkins does not look like he is in any position to play right tackle at the moment. Jenkins ranks 75th in PFF pass blocking grade, but the Packers continue to play him out there. Jenkins has been fantastic as a run blocker, but has gotten in trouble working in space against edge rushers. Green Bay could solve this problem by playing him inside at guard, but have been reluctant to do so. This could partially be that their ideal right tackle is Yosh Nijman, who is rotating in and out with David Bakhtiari, whose initial injury was now almost twenty-two months ago. Royce Newman has continued to struggle as well. If Bakhtiari can handle full game loads, perhaps that allows Green Bay to move Nijman to right tackle and kick Elgton into guard, but it’s hard to feel good about the tackle situation with how it has played out thus far. Overall offensively, the Packers are incredibly lucky that Aaron Jones is enjoying a career year at age 27, otherwise they would almost certainly be staring 1-4 in the face simply through offensive struggles.

On the defensive side, it is clear to see how poorly coached this team is. This was predictable back when the Packers hired Joe Barry since he had zero track record of being able to put together quality defenses. Barry is the prime example of someone who has failed up through ‘who he knows’ rather than earning the promotions he’s given, a reality Green Bay is paying for. Green Bay continues, week after week, to post bad rush defense performances and week after week the team continues to operate within the same structure with the same errors and the same breakdowns. I would go on and on about how frustrating this is, but our own Paul Noonan put it succinctly:

The Packers are not only getting beaten in the run game, but their structure is handing offenses easy yards.

And how does a team just ask to get crushed on crossing routes? By providing easy access to the middle of the field in off-quarters coverage and off-cover 3.

The Packers are spending $37 million in veteran AAV and three first round picks on secondary members to play the type of conservative shell defenses that are needed when you have far less talent.

The Packers made the same mistake twice. They hired a guy to run someone else’s defense. The Packers once wanted a Rex Ryan defense so they hired Mike Pettine. But Mike Pettine isn’t Rex Ryan. He’s not the savant. He’s someone who climbed the ladder through relationships and being a subordinate to a savant. The Packers wanted a Vic Fangio defense, but Joe Barry isn’t Vic Fangio. Joe Barry has made a career of copying other people’s homework, and Green Bay is getting the cruddy ‘look over your shoulder to try and copy your equation’ version of a Vic Fangio defense. The shell of it looks the same, but none of the execution is there, either from a player or coaching perspective.

For a team that came into the season with hopes of pushing deep into the playoffs, nothing has indicated this team is capable of that. They were waxed by Minnesota in a game where the Vikings packed it in after one half. The Packers then took out their frustrations against a Chicago Bears team that barely qualifies as an NFL team as they are engaged in a ‘down to the studs’ rebuild. They were fortunate to beat a battered Buccaneers team due to a two-point conversion and the defense forcing two timely fumbles (which are pretty random). They skated by a third string quarterback on a last-second overtime field goal, and just went and got dominated in the second half by a Giants team that had virtually no healthy receivers and that ranks 31st in overall PFF grades.

The Packers are in a dark place right now. Maybe they get out of it. But nothing we have seen this season suggests this team talented enough nor well-coached enough to be serious contenders.