By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Meantime, defense reportedly to add pass rush help with veteran free agents
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ need to develop balance on both sides of the football was painfully obvious last season.
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Green Bay was too “pass happy” on offense and the defense’s inability to sync up pass rush with pass coverage provided way too many easy opportunities for opponents.
As the days go by since his hire in January, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is slowly revealing his plan to fix what’s been ailing Green Bay.
It’s all talk thus far, but I’m encouraged by what I’m hearing.
Offensively, LaFleur intends to have his attack fueled by running the football in his outside zone blocking scheme. The idea is to create cutback lanes, seal the edges and make runs and passes appear almost identical right up to the snap.
Granted, we’ve heard some of this before. The difference is this time it’s coming from a new voice – LaFleur’s – who possesses a history (albeit brief) of successfully blending run and pass.
Defensively, the Packers reportedly plan to invest in a pass rusher or two via free agency. According to ESPN, sources say the Packers “plan to spend on a pass rusher or two and see what’s left in the budget.”
That’s music to Packers fans’ ears. When it comes to drafting and developing, edge rushers are often among the late bloomers. It’s one thing to beat a college-caliber tackle for a sack. It’s quite another to beat an NFL veteran.
The Saints traded their 27th pick in 2018 for the Packers’ 14th overall so they could select edge rusher Marcus Davenport. It appears New Orleans hit on Davenport, but even at that he only managed 4 ½ sacks as a rookie.
The ESPN report regarding the Packers’ desire to sign an edge rusher or two in free agency makes sense. It should provide immediate help and doesn’t preclude taking one in the draft.
Here are several free agent pass rushers who might fit here:
** Trey Flowers (6-2, 265) has 21 sacks and five forced fumbles in three seasons at New England. He also has 39 tackles and 5 ½ sacks in nine playoff games. I can’t imagine the Patriots letting him walk, but if they do Green Bay could be his landing spot.
** Preston Smith (6-5, 265) was the 38th pick by Washington in 2015. He has 24 ½ sacks and five forced fumbles while playing in 64 of a possible 64 games. He would start immediately here.
** Za’Darius Smith (6-4, 272) recorded 8 ½ sacks last season in Baltimore. He has 18 ½ sacks in four seasons.
** Markus Golden (6-2, 260) was the 58th overall pick in 2015. He racked up 12 ½ sacks in 2017 while playing opposite Chandler Jones (11 sacks that year) at Arizona. His production slipped mightily last season, so he’s looking to bounce back.
Edge rushers Dion Jordan, Shane Ray, Derrick Morgan and Vinny Curry also are on the market. All are talented and looking to rebound from subpar seasons.
Now let’s look at the offense.
The Packers have said they want to be more athletic along the offensive line. When I hear “more athletic” I think of linemen who are adept pass blockers, of course, but also are quick and agile enough to outflank defenders and seal the edge.
It appears that type of offensive lineman will be sought in the draft. I won’t be shocked if the Packers draft at least two offensive linemen in the first four rounds. It’s time.
The Packers’ coaching staff also believes running back Aaron Jones fits nicely into this system, and that Jamaal Williams is skilled enough to carve out a role.
Adam Stenavich, the new offensive line coach, said he’s excited by the possibilities.
“With us, it’s a matter of marrying up the run game and the pass game and having a good system in place,” Stenavich told reporters. “Everything plays off of the zone. It’s getting the offense to be cohesive and make one thing look like another and to really focus on coming off the ball and having fun. O-linemen like doing that.”
As for Jones and Williams, he added, “Very excited about our running backs. (Running backs coach) Ben (Sirmans) speaks very highly of them. I can’t wait to watch those guys work.”
Jones led the NFL at 5.47 yards per carry in 2018. He’s explosive with good vision and balance. He needs to stay healthy, which will make him available and accountable.
The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy in 2014. That’s mostly because the Packers have lacked the talent and the inclination to run the football.
The Packers dropped back to pass an NFL-high 71.5 percent last season. It led to horrible down-and-distance situations and resulted in Aaron Rodgers leading the league in third-down sacks. Those obvious drive killers have to stop.
A running game should go a long way to fixing that.