Do the Packers really have to leave their NFC North cocoon? It’s so, warm and comfy in here. Yards and points come in waves. By 2pm we can choose between a nap or doing some yard work, comfortable with the fact that the Packers have chalked up another W.
Ah, but all good things, and division games, must come to an end and next week’s trip to the Superdome will provide a true litmus test as to where the Pack sits in the NFC hierarchy early in the 2020 season.
Matt LaFleur is now a perfect 8-0 in division games and he’s 16-4 in his first 20 games as head coach of the Packers. I’m not sure even Carl Gerbschmidt would have predicted that when Mark Murphy introduced the relatively unknown Rams offensive coordinator as the new guy to lead the team 20 months ago.
Yes, the Packers faced a crippled Lions team, missing two starters on the offensive line, a defensive tackle two corners and its top wide receiver. That’s a fact. But they did what they were supposed to do and then some, after falling into a 14-3 hole to start the game.
With the Lions committed to making sure Davante Adams wouldn’t torch them like he did the Vikings, the Packers were happy to feed the ground game and Aaron Jones once again reminded the NFL world that they could leave him out of the elite running backs conversation at their own peril.
He had the best day statistically of any Packer back or receiver in team history. His 75-yard burst to open the second effectively ended the game and his beautiful high point downfield catch showed why he’s so dangerous no matter where he lines up. The Pack will have to swallow hard and sign him to an extension averaging around $10 million per year, as the Saints and Vikings have done in recent weeks.
History tells us that signing backs to lucrative second contracts rarely works out for the team, but for the Packers, who are desperately hoping to cash in on another Lombardi Trophy before Aaron Rodgers moves on, it’s a move they have to make. Both Jones and David Bakhtiari need to be locked up soon.
With 259 yards on the ground, the Packers are proving that they just might have the most well-rounded offense they’ve had in recent memory. Jones averaged over nine yards per carry (and more than five yards even if you toss out the long TD run); Jamal Williams continues to serve as a valuable complement, gaining 63 yards on nearly eight yards a pop. At this point AJ Dillon will have to wait for an injury or the 2021 season, when Williams most likely moves on to greener pastures.
Two games: 85 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense. Yep, I think it’s safe to say the team is more comfortable in year two of LaFleur’s offense. Think about what those numbers would look like without the drops. Sunday it was the tight ends’ turn, as both Jace Sternberger and Robert Tonyan left yards on the field. It skewed Rodgers’ completion percentage a bit, but not his effectiveness, once again demonstrating that he is ready to show the world that he is still capable of playing at an MVP level.
On the other side of the ball, it was an eye-opening performance from Rashan Gary, who notched 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss and was in Matthew Stafford’s face all afternoon. Give Gary much of the credit for the Chandon Sullivan pick six–he forced Stafford to get rid of the ball before he wanted to. On a day when Za’Darius Smith was asked to do some work inside, to help deal with the loss of Kenny Clark, Gary was all over the field.
And the Pack’s run defense held up after another slow start, holding the Lions to 89 yards on the ground. Adrian Peterson found some room to run early, but the Pack found their footing and corralled him for most of the day. They still need to work on their tight end defense: TJ Hockenson caught all four balls that went his way.
On a day when some teams (49ers and Giants) saw injuries put their seasons in jeopardy, the Pack seems to have escaped relatively unscathed. We’ll wait to hear about the severity of Adams’ hamstring injury, but the fact that he was standing on the sidelines gives hope that he’ll be ready for the prime time showdown with the Saints.
Green Bay catches a bit of a break that the Saints will be coming off a short week, and may or may not have Michael Thomas available next Sunday night. But having taken care of business in a big way in their two divisional games to kick off the season, they’re kind of playing with house money. They’ll be underdogs on Sunday night in a game that you figured was an “L” when the schedule came out.
But this team has made a quite a statement to the rest of the NFC North in its first two games. If they can dodge the injury bug, the Pack looks like they can play with anybody. They are now emerging from their NFC North cocoon. Let’s hope a colorful butterfly will be on display when they take the field at the Superdome next Sunday night.