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Are the Packers Legitimate Contenders?

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Mason Thompson  | September 26th, 2019 

After two years of constant turmoil between the players and coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers and specifically General Manager Brian Gutekunst, finally did what all Packer fans had been calling to be done for years: McCarthy was fired. For the second consecutive season and only the third time since Aaron Rodgers had taken over as the starter, the Packers ended up missing out on the playoffs. With McCarthy out, Gutekunst led a coaching search that ended with the team hiring former Titans Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur as the new head coach.

During the off-season, the Packers did something they had rarely done in the past, spent money, lots of it. The team acquired Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith to fix the constant lack of pass rush that was manned last year by Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. Both Perry and Matthews walk out the door during free agency. Along with both Smith’s, the Packers shelled out a big contract to hybrid offensive lineman Billy Turner. Turner spent time with the Denver Broncos last year and played at both guard and tackle at times, something that is extremely valuable in today’s game. The biggest splash move of free agency came with the addition of former Chicago Bear Adrian Amos. Not only did the Packers get an upgrade, but they also hurt a division rival. Gutekunst continued to re-shape Mike Pettine’s defense in the draft. Continuing to build upon one of the league’s worst pass rush units last season, the team selected Rashan Gary from Michigan with the 12th overall selection in April’s draft. Not to be outdone, the team traded up to snag Maryland safety, Darnell Savage. These selections have already been vital to the team’s success this season. To finish off the summer, the team made a surprising move by cutting star defensive end Mike Daniels the day after handing Dean Lowry a contract extension. The move had reportedly been in the works for a few months, but they couldn’t get a trade partner for Daniels. Most fans were not sure what to expect this season.

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Weeks 1-3

After a preseason in which Aaron Rodgers didn’t play a single snap, fans were antsy to see what the revitalized offense could do against the stingy Bears defense in the league’s kickoff to the season. The game was a defensive battle for sure. Green Bay couldn’t get anything going offensively, not surprising considering this was their first game playing together with the new offense at full speed. The Packers offense struggled against the Bears defense allowing five sacks. Fortunately, the defense finally stepped up. Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine finally has a squad that can stop a cold. Not only did rising stars Jaire Alexander and Kenny Clark have great games, but the additions of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith had already paid off as the two accounted for two and a half of the team’s five sacks. Ultimately, former Bear Adrian Amos would intercept an erratic Mitchell Trubisky pass to seal the win against his former team, one that will haunt Bears fans for a long time.

After a lackluster performance from the offense on opening day, fans were eager to see if they could dial-up something against another tough Minnesota Vikings defense, and they got what they were looking for on the opening drive. In four plays the team drove 75 yards and scored a touchdown, culminating with a Rodgers pass to Jamaal Williams for the touchdown. The next possession, the offense showed up again, this time ending with a Rodgers to Geronimo Allison touchdown, putting the team up by 14. Then, the defense stepped up yet again. Kenny Clark would sack Kirk Cousins who would fumble the ball which would end up in Dean Lowry‘s arms. They would go on to score yet again. After opening the game with a 21-0 lead, the offense would stall and allow the Vikings to attempt at a comeback, but it was too little too late as the team would move to 2-0.

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The team would then play the Broncos at Lambeau Field in week three. Another strong opening drive would end with a 40-yard touchdown from Rodgers to the second-year receiver, Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Broncos would get great field position on their first possession but their first drive would wind up losing yards as the Packers defense prevailed. With the score all tied up at ten, Preston Smith proved why the team handed him a big contract as he strip-sacked Joe Flacco with the ball ending up with Rashan Gary. In the second half, the Packers defense exploded. On a pass that was caught by rookie tight end Noah Fant, Jaire Alexander would tackle Fant and proceeded to rip the ball from him. Then, the second of the first-round picks, Darnell Savage would come up with a great interception that would ultimately put the game out of reach.

Let’s take a look at how each unit is doing so far, three weeks into the season.

Offense

For once, the Packers offense, and specifically Rodgers, isn’t having to carry the team. The Packers offense has been rather lackluster to start the season, as they currently rank 28th in total yards per game. Rodgers and LaFleur have not been on the same page as they are ranked 27th in passing, averaging less than 200 yards per game.

Many analysts thought this would finally be the year that Aaron Jones would breakout. So far, that hasn’t come to fruition. Jones is second on the team in terms of snaps at the running back position as Jamaal Williams has been on the field more. LaFleur had stated that he wanted to run the ball more but most fans thought that was with Jones with Williams only being sprinkled in. Through three weeks, Jones is averaging just a touch over 15 carries per game with Williams getting 8. Jones has also not had his usual splash plays as he has less than four yards per carry so far.

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In years past, the Packers have only had Davante Adams to rely on. Now, it looks like the team has a number two receiver for the future. I have been pounding the table for Valdes-Scantling to get more reps since he was drafted last year. With the departure of Randall Cobb in the offseason, he finally got his chance to shine this season. So far, Valdes-Scantling has comparable stats to Adams. Adams has 15 receptions for 198 yards through three games while Valdes-Scantling has 13 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown.

Tight end is still an issue for the team, as Jimmy Graham is hurt yet again. This past week against Denver the team sprinkled in Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis into the game plan but they don’t ignite a spark in the offense, as someone like Graham or rookie Jace Sternberger would who is unfortunately on injured reserve.

The offensive line has been a pleasant surprise since week one. Lane Taylor went on injured reserve before the game against Denver and rookie Elgton Jenkins did a solid job.

Defense

After years of constant displeasure from Packer fans, the team finally has a defense that can help the team instead of hurt it. The defense is ranked 13th overall and is only giving up just over 11 points per game which is second in the league. Upfront, Kenny Clark has shown that he is worthy of getting a new contract from the team. He’s one of the best run-stuffers in the game and can get after the quarterback as well. Fans can R-E-L-A-X about the release of Mike Daniels after the performance Dean Lowry has provided through the first few weeks. Tyler Lancaster, Montravius Adams, and Kingsley Keke have provided valuable depth along the front as well.

Blake Martinez is as stout as he’s ever been as a tackler and has shown that he has some ability in coverage this year as well. Gutekunst’s efforts at fortifying a strong pass rush during the off-season has come to fruition. Preston Smith has 4.5 sacks through the first 3 games along with an interception, while Za’Darius has three sacks as well. Rookie Rashan Gary got in the action against Denver as well with a fumble recovery and sack.

The secondary has been the core of the defense to start the year. Alexander is molding into a budding superstar with the ability to make splash plays happen at any point during the game. It won’t be long until he’s in the conversation as a top-five corner in the game. Tramon Williams has shown that he can still play, as well as being a teacher to all the young guys in the secondary. Savage and Amos have already shown that they are a great tandem in the back-end, both having game-sealing interceptions. The biggest surprise this year is third-year corner, Kevin King. After two injury-plagued years to start his career, King has finally shown the potential that made him the 33rd selection in the 2017 draft. He has recorded a sack and interception so far. Josh Jackson and Chandon Sullivan have provided great depth in the secondary.

J.K. Scott

When the Packers spent a draft pick on Scott last year, fans were furious. After a decent rookie season, Scott has shown why the team put a high-priority on him during the draft. He can single-handedly change the field position for other teams, as seen in the Chicago game.

Thursday Preview

The Packers will take on the 1-2 Philadelphia Eagles this week to kick off week 4 at Lambeau. This will be the team’s first look at a quarterback that isn’t mediocre and can change the game by himself in Carson Wentz. Along with seeing an above-average quarterback for the first time, the Packers offense will face off against an Eagles defense that has some holes, some of which were exposed by the Lions last week. I’d expect the Eagles to struggle offensively while the Packers should finally show the Packer faithful an offense they are used to seeing.

Prediction: Packers win 28-17

Rest of Season Preview

The next 6 games should give the league a good idea of whether this team is for real or not. With match-ups against Philadelphia, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and the Los Angeles Chargers on display, the team will have to find a groove offensively. With games against the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco, the Giants, and Washington in November and early December, the Packers will get a break at facing some of the premier teams in the league right now before finishing off with a slew of divisional games. The stretch the Packers are about to encounter will be the most difficult of the season and will give us an idea of how far the team will go this year.

End of Season Prediction Record: 11-5

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Main Image Credit: [getty src=”1177073963″ width=”594″ height=”396″ tld=”com”]

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