As a Green Bay Packer fan, it has been quite the journey since last year’s NFC championship exit. The team added Devin Funchess, Christian Kirksey, and Rick Wagner via free agency, a solid start to the offseason. Then, instead of drafting a receiver or linebacker in the first round of the draft, Green Bay traded up to take Jordan Love, a quarterback, who won’t see the field until 2022 barring injury. Not only did they take a quarterback in the first round, but they also selected a third-string running back in the second round and then a tight end-fullback hybrid in the third. They didn’t take a single receiver in the draft.
Ahead of the season, most analysts had the Vikings, and sometimes the Bears ahead of the Packers for the divisional crown. The drafting of Love in the first round while the team still has Aaron Rodgers put a damper on things and the media was all for exploiting it. Through nine weeks of the season, Rodgers and company have made the media question their original season predictions with a 6-2 record following Thursday’s win over the injury-riddled 49ers. So, what has Green Bay done this far, and is this success sustainable for the rest of the season?
Green Bay started the season 4-0 with wins over Minnesota, Detroit, New Orleans, and Atlanta. In those four games, Rodgers completed over 70 percent of his passes for over 1,200 yards, 13 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The duo of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 482 rushing yards, 28 catches, and five total touchdowns in those early-season games. In only two games with both Davante Adams and Allen Lazard both active, the duo combined for 24 catches, 300 yards, and three touchdowns. Since then, both have missed time. The offensive line has been stellar all year, only allowing nine sacks, despite Lane Taylor going down for the season in Week 1.
The defense has been up-and-down. The Packers lost both Blake Martinez and Tramon Williams in the offseason. The linebacker spot was something that was still a question as Kirksey went out with an injury early in the season, paving the way for Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes to show flashes. Williams was let go because of the play of Chandon Sullivan. He recorded a pick-six against Detroit in Week 2 and has been one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league this year (Here’s an article that was written about Sullivan’s success this year). Jaire Alexander showed he was one, if not the best cornerback in the league early in the season and continues to shut down the opposing team’s number one receiver.
Weeks 5 and 7
The losses to the Buccaneers and Vikings these weeks brought Green Bay down to earth and showed they still had things to work on and weaknesses on the team, especially at linebacker. Green Bay suffered some critical drops in both of these games by the receivers, and the run defense showed it was a liability.
“No Name” Players Coming Up Big
By this point, Lazard and Sullivan aren’t no-name players anymore. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has had his ups-and-downs this year. He has 39 targets on the year but has only caught 18 of them for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Valdes-Scantling has had to step into the number two receiver slot with Lazard recovering from an injury. His drops continue to be an issue and are a concern.
Robert Tonyan is currently the second receiver on the team with a 24/314/5 line, including a massive three-touchdown game against the Falcons in Week 4. Jace Sternberger continues to get more involved in the offense in his second year. The third-round pick from last year has eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Tyler Ervin is the team’s Deebo Samuel clone. Ervin has 22 total touches on offense for 148 yards. He spreads out the defense and keeps them on their toes. He has also been a big help on special teams.
Barnes and Martin have been serviceable as rookies. Both have been out for some games due to injuries and being on the COVID list but are starting-caliber linebackers, something Green Bay didn’t have in Martinez. Raven Greene continues to impress whenever he’s on the field. He has 23 tackles, a sack, and an interception from Thursday’s game against the 49ers. With Kevin King and the two linebackers hurt, Greene has gotten more snaps. Surprisingly, Kingsley Keke has the second-highest sack count with two. With Kenny Clark early in the year, Keke stepped up into a much larger role and made the most of it. He, Montravius Adams, and Tyler Lancaster have all had moments this year.
Rodgers has only been sacked nine times this year. That’s with Taylor missing seven-and-a-half games and David Bakhtiari missing the last few games. Elgton Jenkins and Corey Linsley have done excellently in their starting roles, and Jenkins is quietly becoming one of the best offensive linemen in the league who can play any position. Billy Turner was handed quite a large contract in the 2018 offseason but has been worth all of it this year. He’s had to play three different positions and did a magnificent job on Thursday manning the left tackle spot for the majority of the game. Lucas Patrick has stepped in for Taylor nicely and hasn’t caused issues. Both Wagner and Jon Runyan Jr have had their significant snaps as well. Runyan has played well as a rookie early this year.
Not So Much Wheeling and Dealing?
Ahead of last week’s trade deadline, the Packers were making noise. Will Fuller was seemingly in Green Bay’s grasps. Well, as we know now, the Packers and Texans couldn’t agree on the compensation for Fuller. Brian Gutekunst would only fork up a fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft when the Texans wanted a second-round pick instead. While many looked at this as a horrendous move for Green Bay, they were smart by not trading for Fuller. Now, Houston keeps Fuller and likely won’t re-sign him, and likely will receive only a fourth-round compensatory pick in 2022, not 2021, the year they’re starved for draft capital. The trade isn’t really needed as Adams has 53 catches for 675 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, despite missing two games.
Green Bay has a ten-day break between Thursday and this Sunday’s game against Jacksonville. The Packers will likely be returning Bakhtiari, Barnes, Lazard, Martin, and King, with a healthier Jones at their disposal. Green Bay plays Jacksonville on Sunday before they play Indianapolis the next week. They round out the season with two games against Chicago, Philadelphia, another game against Detroit, Carolina, and Tennessee. The Packers could very well find themselves at 13-3 and have potentially the top-seed heading into the playoffs in the NFC. If they get the top seed in the NFC, teams will have to come to snowy Lambeau Field.
Green Bay desperately needs to get more of a pass rush going as they only have 17 sacks on the year, seven by ZaDarius Smith. Preston Smith is finally showing signs of life lately, and Rashan Gary is getting more snaps. The run defense needs to beef up with games against James Robinson, Jonathan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey, and Derrick Henry all on the horizon. Green Bay may not be the best team in the league, but they are certainly in the Super Bowl race.