The Green Bay Packers got back in the Win Column, comfortably stomping the Chicago Bears 27-10 on Sunday Night Football. Here are four thoughts on where the team stands going into a tough game in Tampa Bay.
1. Elgton Jenkins made his Return
Enough can’t be made of Elgton Jenkins’ return to the football field. Though he fought some rust, giving up a sack and some pressures, Jenkins stabilized the right side of the offensive line and completely changed the Green Bay Packers play calling.
Many wondered last season why the Green Bay Packers offense strayed from the Jet motion and heavy run game action that personified the unit in 2020. The loss of LT David Bakhtiari for the entire 2021 season and having Jenkins for only half of the season are HUGE factors why.
QB Aaron Rodgers will always – as will any QB – play better and be open to turning his back to the defense on play-action fakes when he has strong OL play in front of him. In Week 1, we saw the offense revert to much of the spread concepts it utilized in 2021.
With Jenkins back, the team turned to more of LaFleur’s preferred run-heavy schemes and utilized numerous window-dressing tactics to create running lanes. And yes, all that flexibility and security can be attributed to Jenkins’ return.
With Jenkins at RT, the Green Bay Packers can field an OL that is at worst league average at each of the five positions. It remains to be seen what the starting five will look like when Bakhtiari returns to the field, but for now, Jenkins has at least given the Green Bay Packers its right hook back.
2. Offense finds traction (and its 2022 identity?)
We heard all offseason that the Green Bay Packers intended to be a run-heavy team on offense and would lean on the skills of RBs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, especially early on as the rookie WRs got acclimated to the NFL game.
In Week 1, due to various reasons, that duo only saw the field 7 teams together in the team’s fabled Pony package. Last night, the Green Bay Packers marched Pony on the Chicago Bears nearly twice as many times in the first half than they did all game the week prior in Minnesota.
The Green Bay Packers used Pony to eviscerate the Bears defense on the ground as Jones and Dillon combined for over 100 first half rushing yards and Jones collected 2 TDs.
It wasn’t pretty – a botched handoff in the 3rd Qtr killed the team’s chance of blowing out the Bears – the whole game, but it got the job done for the Green Bay Packers. This will have to be how this team wins games for at least the first half of this season, especially while the team waits on Bakhtiari’s return and gets Watson and Doubs up to speed.
We saw some efforts by the Green Bay Packers to get downfield shots as the game went on, culminating with a 55yd post off play action to Sammy Watkins. We’ll see how they can continue to build on that play, but for now, it looks like the offense knows which side its bread is buttered on this season.
3. Defense answers some questions but still leaks
The Green Bay Packers finally got some signs of life out of its defense after a dismal display in Week 1. The pass rush came to play as starting edge duo Rashan Gary (1 sack) and Preston Smith (2 sacks) combined for a trio of meetings at the QB.
Jaire Alexander put an exclamation point on the defense’s night with a diving interception of Justin Fields to salt away the win for the Green Bay Packers. The big picture optics (228 yds and 10 pts allowed) make this look like a successful night, but there are issues abound for the unit.
The tackling was again nothing short of ATROCIOUS and would have let the Bear back in this game if the Packers hadn’t again blocked the goal line camera from sighting whether the ball crossed the plane, bringing back shades of Micah Hyde’s behind in the 2014 R-E-L-A-X game.
Numerous times while the game was separated by two or three scores, the Green Bay Packers defense tried to strip ball carriers instead of securing tackles. The Packers remain perhaps the worst gang tackling team and too often you see the next defender in frame taking his sweet time getting to the ball carrier when the first defender is there.
The safeties continued to be shaky at best, which accentuated the run game deficiencies as both Amos and Savage took poor angles or forgot they have arms to make tackles with. We’ll see how quickly this unit can shore up the leaks, but it was nice to see them take a step forward from their debacle in Minnesota.
Granted, the Bears still suck and their offense will likely be a bottom-10, if not bottom-5, unit in the league this year. But it was good to see this unit take control of the game when the score was close. Time to see if this unit can continue to improve and evolve.
4. Where to next?
Up next for the Green Bay Packers is a trip to Rodgers’ personal house of horrors, another bout with Tampa Bay and Tom Brady. This isn’t the world-beating unit that trounced the Packers in the 2020 regular season or gutted Green Bay Packers fans’ souls in the NFC Championship Game that postseason.
While I don’t expect this team to win this Sunday, I do expect them to at least put up a better fight in Tampa than two years ago. Maybe the Green Bay Packers will have Bakhtiari back in the saddle this week. And perhaps the front seven will finally get pressure on Brady (ok, now I’m dreaming too far).
The biggest goals I’d set for the Green Bay Packers if I were a coach would be to continue to build on what worked on Sunday and continue to shore up the issues we’ve discussed above. What honestly may shift the game for the Green Bay Packers offense is if Rodgers will trust the rookies. Perhaps a couple of nice screens from Doubs last night will help.
We’ll see what LaFleur can scheme up for this matchup and whether Rodgers will be even better than he was last night. The 2022 Green Bay Packers got a taste of victory and we’ll see whether they can continue to build their identity as the games roll along.