The Packers play the Rams on what figures to be a very cold, possibly snowy night game in Lambeau Field on Monday. This is not great.
I’ve written before on some of the structural issues that make Lambeau a bad fit for the Packers when the weather turns, which you can read here. The short version is as follows:
- Good teams excel at passing, because they almost always have good quarterbacks. They build their offense around it.
- Lesser teams often run too much, and often have disproportionate resources devoted to stopping the run.
- In cold and snow, running and run-stopping become more valuable relative to their value in the regular season.
- Aaron Rodgers is an old man, and old men and cold don’t mix.
It’s more nuanced than that, but you get the idea. In a vacuum, on paper, the Packers should destroy the Rams. The Rams are terrible. They got their title, but the cost has come due, as they are old, injured, and have no depth. Unfortunately, there are some problems with this specific matchup.
First and foremost, the one thing the Rams are actually good at is stopping the run, where they rank 5th in DVOA. They may be without Aaron Donald, which certainly matters, but if this turns into a rock fight, Los Angeles is better equipped on the defensive side. Compounding this issue, the Packers will be without David Bakhtiari (everything), which means they will likely be turning to the perfectly serviceable, but very light Yosh Nijman and Zach Tom. This will not be a Packer line equipped for power running, and given how Aaron Jones has struggled lately, this may turn into an AJ Dillon game.
The Packers are at least a good running team, which should help, while the Rams quite poor, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Green Bay remains the worst run defense in the league by DVOA, and 2nd worst by EPA/Play, which brings us to Cam Akers. Akers is, for my money, the NFL’s worst player. You can define the “worst player” in many ways. The player currently closest to being cut league wide is perhaps the correct answer. The worst quarterback, who is capable of doing the most damage as an individual, and who may actually be Baker Mayfield, is a possibility. But let’s go with Akers, who was drafted with the 52nd pick of the 2020 draft, one spot ahead of Jalen Hurts, who plays the NFL’s least valuable position, and who is, as I write this, last in RB DVOA.
Akers is a good athlete with a great RAS, and he has, for his short, injury-plagued career, been exclusively boom or bust. 2022 has been almost exclusively bust as he averages just 3.3 yards per carry.
With pick 52 in the 2020 NFL Draft, the #Rams selected Cam Akers, RB, Florida State.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 25, 2020
He posted a great #RAS with good size, great speed, good explosiveness, at the RB position.https://t.co/JFJXZv7xm9#LARams pic.twitter.com/GKtOS9ReW5
But given his underlying speed, the Packer defense, and the fact that the Packers’ defense specifically struggles with big plays:
Took some inspiration from @Marcus_Mosher and recreated his most Big Plays table but for defenses to see which defenses have allowed the most big plays this year. The table's not as pretty as his but it gets the job done. pic.twitter.com/2Ibn5GYIYb— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) December 14, 2022
And I’m officially worried. Add in a dash on boom or bust receiver Van Jefferson, and this game gets dicier and dicier.
I think there’s a good chance that Akers has something of a career day in the cold of Green Bay and manages to keep the game annoyingly close. If that does happen, the final issue that may impact this game is Mason Crosby. Crosby has struggled to get kickoffs into the end zone, and his range seems to be down on field goals. If you need a last second field goal from Mason in the freezing cold on Monday, how far does your trust go? Mine doesn’t go beyond 47 yards or so.