By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay faces rugged schedule following bye week adjustments
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers succinctly summed up the Packers’ state of affairs going into and out of their bye.
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“We’re thankful to be 3-2-1 right now and realize what’s in front of us, and how this type of play might not get it done against the next opponents,” he said after the Packers’ narrow 33-30 win over San Francisco on Oct. 16.
“We’ve got to play better.”
Rodgers is correct, of course, but the question remains: How?
Here’s some well-intentioned if unsolicited advice: Go with what you do best, which is throwing the football, tightening up the first-half defense and playing with the lead for a change.
Unless Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has something up his sleeve that’s drastically different than the first six games, it’s the best and perhaps only way to proceed.
The Packers (3-2-1) take on the Rams (7-0) in a 3:25 p.m. game Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Trying to develop a running attack, balance and a grind-it-out approach would be asking too much at this stage. Those decisions are made, implemented and executed in the offseason.
So what are the Packers’ assets?
Rodgers is perhaps the NFL’s best quarterback. Davante Adams is as good a receiver as there is in the league. Jimmy Graham is another legit weapon that’s starting to get in sync with Rodgers.
Aaron Jones and the draw/screen game are going to be essential. Jones is ready to roll and obviously well-rested (sarcasm). He is the best weapon against a pass rush that the Packers possess. McCarthy needs to use Jones within the passing game context. If he has limitations as a pass blocker get the football out quicker.
No matter what happens Rodgers can’t keep getting hit so often. Clearly, the Rams’ defense is going to try to get after Rodgers right from the start. If the Packers fall behind at Los Angeles it’s going to be an incredibly difficult mountain to climb.
Aaron Donald, the Rams’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle, has three sacks this season. That’s by a defensive tackle. The Packers’ team leaders are Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell with three each, including all three by Fackrell in a single game.
Can the Packers win a shootout in the Coliseum? It’s possible. After all, the Rams played about as well as they can in a 38-31 victory over Minnesota earlier this season. Rodgers and Co. may need to put up 40 to beat the Rams, difficult but not impossible.
The good news for Green Bay is that Rodgers and the offense average 421 yards per game to rank fourth in the NFL. The bad news is the Rams’ offense is No. 1 at 463 yards per game.
Forty points may not be enough.
Slow starts have been the Packers’ problem all season.
Green Bay’s defense is No. 2 in the league in second-half points allowed, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens. The problem is it’s largely because teams tend to rein it in with a second-half lead. The Packers have been outscored 100-63 in the first half.
The Packers have scored just once on an opening-drive this season. That was the touchdown against the 49ers. It’s a different story in the second half, where Green Bay is 6-for-6 on second half opening drives (four field goals, two touchdowns).
Jones’ presence should help in the red zone, where Green Bay has all but abandoned the running game.
The Packers rank 21st in red zone offense, and 22nd in red zone defense. That double whammy is why they’re 3-2-1.
The Packers are 9-3 coming out of their bye under McCarthy, so they’ve been really good with an extra week to prepare.
Also, the Rams have been running roughshod over opponents. It’s difficult to sustain that dominance all 16 games, and if the Rams aren’t on top of their game Rodgers may make them pay.
Defensively, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bashaud Breeland at cornerback, and Tramon Williams at safety. The Packers worked out two safeties during the bye for a reason. Williams has played safety in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme in the past, so it wouldn’t be anything new to the veteran.
If you’re going to throw the football and try to play with a lead two things are essential.
First, you need a pass rush, which continues to be a problem. The Packers’ 16 sacks ranks fifth in the NFL, but seven of those came against Buffalo and a rookie quarterback. They’ve got to be better at hitting the opposing quarterback.
Second, you can’t give up big plays on the back end. That’s where Williams and Breeland come in.
Ultimately, I’m picking the Packers to upset the Rams, 41-38, in a game that will rekindle hope in Titletown, USA.
McCarthy’s awful good out of the bye, Rodgers is all-world and the Rams aren’t perfect despite their record. There will be plays to be made for Green Bay. Now is the time to go make them.