When Green Bay Packers fans look back at the 2023 season years from now, they will surely do so fondly. This team went through plenty of trials and tribulations in the first half of the season, with a sputtering offense filled with first- and second-year players and a new starting quarterback. But at midseason, this group figured out how to play together, and they have been on a tear ever since.
That youth movement was perhaps best illustrated in week 18. In a game that saw one of the Packers’ two “veteran” receivers inactive (Christian Watson) and the other knocked out early (Romeo Doubs), a trio of first-year players led the way at wide receiver while an impressive rookie tight end continued his ascension.
Jordan Love completed just five passes to a player with more than one year of NFL experience under his belt, all of them going to running back Aaron Jones. Otherwise, it was the group of Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Bo Melton, and Tucker Kraft that did all the heavy lifting. Three of those players — Reed, Wicks, and Kraft — were in the team’s 2023 draft class, while Melton spent his entire rookie 2022 season on practice squads and is in his first true NFL season on a roster.
Meanwhile, the Packers have rookies contributing on defense as well. From 7th-round cornerback Carrington Valentine holding down a starting job to 6th-round lineman Karl Brooks impressing in rotational snaps to top pick Lukas Van Ness delivering another sack, the future certainly looks bright on the personnel front.
OFFENSE (60 total snaps)
Jordan Love 60
Love’s best game of the season (by passer rating) was on Sunday, when he completed 84 percent of his passes by going 27-for-32. It was his highest completion percentage in a game this season, and his 316 passing yards fell just six yards short of a season-high. That and his two touchdowns were good for a passer rating of 128.6, and he was sacked just once.
Aaron Jones 49, Patrick Taylor 11
Jones was the only running back to touch the football on Sunday, and with AJ Dillon’s thumb still leaving him inactive, Jones will surely handle the bulk of the load in Jerry World next week. He put up his third straight 100-yard rushing game, becoming the first Packer to do that since Ahman Green in 2006. Jones added five receptions for 30 yards, giving him over 130 scrimmage yards in each of those three contests.
Bo Melton 45, Dontayvion Wicks 43, Jayden Reed 36, Malik Heath 23, Romeo Doubs 11
The Packers lost Doubs to an injury early, as he landed hard on his back in the end zone. That impact caused him to drop a potential touchdown, but it also resulted in him coughing up blood on the sideline and he did not return to the game.
That left the first-year pros to do all the work, and they were up to the challenge. The Bears had no answers for Melton and Reed, whether from the slot or split wide, while Wicks’ route-running and toughness at the catch point and running after the catch earned him the team’s two touchdowns.
The trio combined for 15 receptions and 235 yards, with Reed and his 59-yard play giving him 112 yards to set a new high mark for a Packers receiver in a game this season.
Tucker Kraft 54, Ben Sims 12, Luke Musgrave 9, Josiah Deguara 7
Although Kraft did not have a massive performance — his 31 yards were his fewest since Thanksgiving — he delivered one of the game’s biggest plays. With the Packers facing a 3rd-and-7 from their own 43 with about 2:30 on the clock, Kraft released following a chip block and got open over the middle, allowing Love to scramble and hit him for 15-yard reception to move the chains. That guaranteed that the Packers would at least be able to run the clock down well under the two-minute warning and it effectively — if not officially — sealed the victory.
Musgrave’s return to action following a six-game absence was limited, but he did make an appearance on the final drive with an 11-yard reception over the middle out of the shadow of the Packers’ own end zone. Hopefully he will be able to work back into the action a bit more by next week to give the Packers a truly complementary tight end duo.
Rasheed Walker 60, Elgton Jenkins 60, Josh Myers 60, Zach Tom 48, Jon Runyan 31, Sean Rhyan 29, Yosh Nijman 12
The Packers’ offensive line has done a bang-up job of keeping Love upright in recent weeks, even as the right guard snaps continue to be split roughly 50/50 between Runyan and Rhyan. Love took just one sack in this game, the third straight game of one or zero sacks, and he has not been sacked more than twice since the win over the Chargers in mid-November. That run has come against some excellent individual pass-rushers as well, the likes of Montez Sweat, Danielle Hunter, and plenty of others.
But perhaps equally impressive was the line’s ability to move the Bears in the run game. Green Bay’s 124 rushing yards were the fourth-most they have allowed in a single game this season. Jenkins’ ability to play a full game was a crucial factor, as he was questionable all week.
One item to watch this week will be at right tackle, where Tom was in and out of the game for a period of time with a finger issue. Nijman stepped in for a handful of snaps in his place, but keep an eye on Tom’s injury status throughout this week, as he would likely be called upon to block Micah Parsons on Sunday.
DEFENSE (48 total snaps)
Kenny Clark 40, Devonte Wyatt 27, T.J. Slaton 26, Karl Brooks 18, Colby Wooden 9
The Bears got nothing going up front in this game, as the Packers’ interior line dominated all game long. The group got three sacks, one each from Clark, Wyatt, and Brooks, and they held the Bears to just 75 rushing yards in total — including just 48 from Chicago’s running backs. Chicago’s interior line was particularly susceptible to interior pass rush, which also limited Justin Fields’ ability to scramble, as he put up just 27 rushing yards, his fewest since week 4.
Preston Smith 36, Rashan Gary 35, Kingsley Enagbare 13, Lukas Van Ness 12
Green Bay’s edge rushers did a solid job in this game as well. Van Ness recorded the fourth sack of his rookie season early, while Enagbare had a pair of tackles for loss in the run game in his 13 snaps. Gary had a TFL on Fields on a strange play that could have been ruled a sack, and he also had a big pass breakup at the line on a big third down. Gary finishes the season with 9 sacks and 22 QB hits, both team-highs, while Smith ended the year just behind with 8 and 21, respectively.
Quay Walker 48, De’Vondre Campbell 38
Where the Packers continue to be susceptible to big plays is over the middle when linebackers are matched up on receivers in zone coverage. Walker got caught up against D.J. Moore for the Bears’ only big play of the game, a 33-yard reception. However, he did have a clean-up sack of Fields and recorded nine total tackles. Campbell had 8 tackles, including the easiest TFL you’ll ever get with Khalil Herbert slipping on the Lambeau Field turf.
Jonathan Owens 48, Darnell Savage 47, Anthony Johnson, Jr. 4
There was not much to say about the Packers’ secondary play in this game, as Fields attempted only 16 passes. Owens and Savage each posted 5 tackles; perhaps the most notable play was Owens’ hit on a scrambling, sliding Fields that looked bad and could have drawn a personal foul penalty but did not.
Jaire Alexander 48, Carrington Valentine 44, Keisean Nixon 31, Corey Ballentine 4
Likewise, the Packers’ cornerbacks did not have to do much in this game. Chicago’s receivers caught a total of six passes, with four going to Moore and one of those with him matched up on Walker over the middle. Nixon was active from the slot both in pass and run defense, leading the group with four total tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS LEADERS
Eric Wilson 12, Enagbare 10, Zayne Anderson 9, Deguara 9, Owens 9, Robert Rochell 9, Slaton 9, Kristian Welch 9