At the quarter point of the regular season, the Green Bay Packers are off to a surprising 3-1 start. There’s been some good, some bad, and a lot in between that raises some questions.
Any time a team can get off to a 3-1 start, including two division wins, it is doing something right. As a whole, the Packers defense has been reat. It has forced turnovers when it has needed them most. Led by free agent signings Za’Darius and Preston Smith up front, with young studs Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage in the secondary, Green Bay would very likely not have started as well as it did without the offseason moves. The offense has gotten off to a sluggish start, but the defense carried the weight and then some.
Another good note is the remarkable starts the offense has been able to get off to. The Packers have found the end zone on its first drive in every game this year, minus the season opener in Chicago. This is something that has been a real struggle over the last couple seasons. The first drive touchdowns have been against some very talented defenses: Minnesota, Denver and Philadelphia. Also, on a promising note, although it came in the loss to the Eagles, it seems like the Packers offense is finally close to putting together a complete game.
For as good as the defense has been as a whole, the run defense has been the Packers’ biggest weakness. While it shut down the Bears, Dalvin Cook and the Vikings raised some caution flags, including a monster 75-yard touchdown. This was written off due to the big play, then came Denver. The Broncos came in and pounded the Packers for 149 yards on the ground. Once again though the Green Bay D held strong when it needed to. In the Philadelphia contest, the Eagles, led by Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, came into Lambeau and each averaged over 5.5 yards per carry. Howard found the end zone twice on the ground. Week 5 only gets harder, with Green Bay needing to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys offense. Green Bay will also face the Melvin Gordon/Austin Ekeler tandem and Christian McCaffrey prior to its late bye week.
Offensively, the biggest weakness has been inconsistency. Running backs and tight ends were expected to be focal points of the LaFleur offense, and there have been flashes of excellence, but it hasn’t been up to expectations. There were always going to be some growing pains, but how long will it take to fire at full power? Points were hard to come by in Week 1 against the Bear, but Rodgers found Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep route, which led to a Jimmy Graham touchdown. That was the extent of the offense, but it was enough. In Week 2, Green Bay came out ready to prove the doubters wrong, scoring on each of its first three drives. Then, the team went ice cold and wouldn’t find the end zone for the rest of the game. Week 4 was arguably Rodger’s & Co., best week despite coming out on the wrong end of a 34-27 score. Coming off a short week, Rodgers looked closer to his former MVP self, slinging the ball for 422 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately, it is the last two drives that will haunt Green Bay, as the team ran five straight pass plays from the goal line, which resulted in a turnover on downs and a game-ending interception.
Questions for Rest of Season
Is this defense for real? The Packers front office has been stockpiling defensive weapons over the last few years, capped by the signings of the Smith tandem and Adrian Amos in free agency. Which was closer to reality: the first three weeks against less-than-spectacular offenses or the track meet that was Week 4? Special teams mishaps and an Aaron Rodgers fumble gave Philadelphia very short fields, which resulted in touchdowns on all three drives. So, maybe it was a bad outing on a short week, or it could be the reason for a great deal of pause.
Offensively, we still need to see a full game from Green Bay. For the first time all season, the Packers faced adversity and had to play from behind for most of the game in Week 4. That said, with the exception of the final two drives, it responded each time it had to. Rodgers played one of his better games in recent memory. Unfortunately, as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine says, “There’s a word for almost winning. Losing.” Another unfortunate note, superstar receiver Davante Adams is also expected to miss some time with turf toe. Green Bay’s young and inexperienced wideouts will have to step up and make up for the absence of the Pro Bowler.
The next quarter of the schedule offers no rest for the wicked. A quick trip to Dallas to face a very talented Cowboys team before a Monday night showdown against the Lions at Lambeau, who shocked most of the NFL by hanging around with the Chiefs in Week 4, kicks off the stretch, followed by another home game against Oakland and then traveling to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs. If Green Bay wants to prove it belongs back in the upper stratosphere of the NFL, it must go at least 2-2 in that stretch.