After a really rough month of play from the loss to Detroit through the loss to Minnesota, the Green Bay Packers have looked like a more competent football team the past two weeks. Despite losing a close one to Pittsburgh, dropping their record in one-score games to 1-4, the offense in particular took another step forward from the really poor play we saw over much of the early fall. With some progress being seen, the Packers welcome a pretty weird opponent to town this Sunday in the Los Angeles Chargers, who are favored by three points on DraftKings.
The Chargers currently sit a full game outside the playoff picture in the AFC and have the fifth-worst record in the conference. Despite this, though. They have a +24 point differential, good for seventh in the AFC. Their passing offense is the star of the show, with them ranking fifth in EPA-per-dropback at +0.167 and eighth in dropback success rate. While opinions nationally remain split on quarterback Justin Herbert, he certainly looks the part of a franchise quarterback, particularly given the fact that his weapons are nothing to write home about. Veteran Keenan Allen leads the group and has maintained his strong play, capped by a catch rate that exceeds 75%, but injuries have weakened the group behind him. Veteran receiver Mike Williams is out for the year with a torn ACL, so that has pushed youngsters Josh Palmer and Quentin Johnston into more snaps, and their production has been fine if not great. The tight end position is headlined by Gerald Everett, who ranks almost dead average 18th in Total EPA for tight ends. Outside of Keenan Allen, there isn’t a ton here, but Allen’s fantastic season is helping Herbert keep the passing game efficient despite lackluster weapons and a mediocre offensive line.
All trench measures from ESPN and PFF.— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) November 14, 2023
It might be hard to quantify run defense well... pic.twitter.com/R3W1MIrtGj
The Chargers run game has really struggled overall. None of their starting offensive lineman post PFF run blocking grades north of 60, and it’s reflected in the data. The Chargers have the 22nd ranked rush offense by EPA-per-rush and are 31st in success rate. Now, the Packers run defense is also pretty porous, as we saw last week against Pittsburgh, but they have handled bad run offenses just fine this season.
The key to slowing down the Chargers is really just slowing down Keenan Allen. Unfortunately for Green Bay, their cornerback room is depleted. Jaire Alexander, at best, will be playing injured and feels more likely to not play at all. Rasul Douglas is out the door, Eric Stokes is injured, and so that means rookie seventh rounder Carrington Valentine and special teamer Corey Ballentine will get the call to slow down the star receiver. Not exactly something that inspires a ton of confidence.
On the other side of the ball, this Chargers defense stinks. They rank 28th in overall EPA-per-play allowed, and are bad against both the run and pass, ranking 20th and 26th in the categories, respectively. The Chargers play a similar shell defense to the Packers, with head coach Brandon Staley being the second major implementer of the system at the NFL level after Vic Fangio. Despite good results with the Rams, the Chargers defenses have been bad for basically his entire tenure. It’s just incredibly easy to move the chains on this defense. Only Denver and Arizona have allowed a higher conversion rate than the Chargers this season.
Series conversion rates on offense and defense— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) November 14, 2023
Kind of surprising seeing the Eagles defense where it is this year. The Chargers are not a surprise. pic.twitter.com/ox6TqcrCAL
That is good news for the Packers offense this week, but they will have to execute in a different way than last week. Pittsburgh’s defense allows big plays, but the Chargers force you to work the ball down the field. Now, you can absolutely work the ball down the field on them, but it will probably require more patience and down-by-down execution. That will require Jordan Love to be a bit more accurate, which he has been in recent weeks. The Packers passing offense overall is about league average at +.044 EPA-per-dropback, but they are worse on a down-to-down basis with a success rate that only ranks 21st. They will need more consistency this week as the big plays are less likely to show up.
Despite the Chargers having a below-average run defense, don’t expect a big day on the ground for the Packers. The offensive line just simply isn’t moving bodies. They rank in the second lowest tier of run blocking units behind the true dregs of the Giants, Jaguars, Chargers, Panther, and Buccaneers. Until that line starts moving bodies, it’s just hard to consistently get Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon going.
Where the Chargers can cause problems is with the pass rush. Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack both are quite disruptive pass rushers still, and having two high end edge rushers will force Green Bay to determine where they want to help. The Packers did a great job last week slowing down the Steelers edge rushers, and I would expect a similar gameplan this week. Plenty of chip help, particularly for whoever starts at left tackle, and largely trusting Zach Tom, one of the better pass protectors in the league, to handle his matchup.
The Packers come in as slight underdogs at home despite playing better the past couple of weeks and having both home-field but also a major time zone advantage. This game will kick off at 10 AM PST. It’s difficult to argue with it, though, as despite these factors, the Chargers have the bones of a good team. They have a very good passing offense and they have a solidly positive point differential. The Packers offense has relied largely on big plays this year, and the Chargers schematically try and force you into executing down-after-down. If Green Bay wins this week, it will almost certainly have to come from strong execution play-after-play on long drives, which would be a welcome sight for an offense that has struggled with consistency.