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NFL Team Previews: Green Bay Packers

2018 Season Review

The Green Bay Packers had a stellar start to the 2018 season, but a rough one at best that was highlight by turmoil between Aaron Rodgers and now former head coach Mike McCarthy. Coming into 2018 the Packers finally made some changes on defense by getting rid of Dom Capers and hiring former HC Mike Pettine to run the defense. The Packers also went defense early in the draft by getting CBs Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. The Packers also went heavy at WR, drafting J’Mon Moore from Missouri, Marquez Valdes-Scantling from UCF, and Equanimeous St. Brown from Notre Dame to help a WR corps that had Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Geronimo Allison. The Packers were also looking to address a lackluster Special Teams by drafting a Punter J.K. Scott from Alabama in the 5th round.

This draft was also highlighted by the first under new General Manager Brian Gutekunst who took over for Ted Thompson. Between getting rid of Dom Capers and Ted Thompson, there were a lot of Packer fans that were excited for the 2018. The excitement didn’t last very long sadly, as Aaron Rodgers went down early with a knee injury in the first game of the year on Sunday Night Football against the Bears.

The Packers were getting dominated after Rodgers exit by the Bears defense and newly acquired DE Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders. Oddly enough, the Packers were also in the running for Mack but the Raiders chose the Bears because they thought the Bears would have the better draft pick. That obviously didn’t prove true and Mack was dominating the Packers until he ran out of gas and the Rodgers came back to save the day.

That win in Week 1, was the highlight win of the of year for the Packers. Rodgers suffered a tibial plateau fracture and sprained MCL in his left knee that night and played with the injuries for the rest of the season. The Packers tied the following weekend with the Vikings after an absurd roughing the passer call on Clay Matthews, and the following week in a loss to the Redskins got called for another awful one.

The Packers offense sputtered behind a hurt Rodgers, a weak offensive line (especially on the interior), injuries, no consistency in the run game, and young WRs that were not on the same page with Rodgers. More importantly, it was beginning to show more and more that McCarthy’s play calling was boring, old, and predictable to not only opposing defenses but Rodgers who did show some frustrations in the offense.

The Packers averaged 23.5 PPG which was 14th in the league but everything looked painful. Even in a 22-0 shutout of the Bills in Week 4 Rodgers wasn’t happy and he had the right to be, the Packers should have scored 40 that game. The Packers had 6 games on the year where they failed to score 20 points or more, including a Week 17 shutout at home to the Detroit Lions.

Rodgers for his standards had a average year even though he threw for 4,442 yards, 25 TDs, and just 2 INTS. More importantly, his completion percentage was only 62.3%. Davante Adams was one receiving highlight for the Packers, in 15 games he had 111 catches for 1,386 yards and 13 TDs. No other pass catchers on the Packers had more than two. Randall Cobb only played in 9 games and had 383 yards and 2 TDs. Geronimo Allison got hurt early and only played in 5 games and had 3030 yards and 2 TDs. That left a lot of playing time for the rookies. MVS had the biggest plays playing in all 16 games and had 38 catches for 581 yards and 2 TDs. St. Brown played in 12 games and had 328 yards and 0 TDs. No rookies really caught on with Rodgers mostly due to communication issues and poor offensive game plans by McCarthy. The Packers second leading receiver was newly acquired TE Jimmy Graham who had 55 catches for 636 yards but just 2 TDs. Overall outside of Adams the Packers had a poor receiving corps.

At running back the frustrations were worse. Aaron Jones missed the first four games of the year but when he got in, he was clearly the superior RB to Jamaal Williams but McCarthy still refused to start Jones. Jones averaged 5.5 YPC compared to Williams’ 3.8 YPC on the year. Jones ended the year with 133 carries for 728 yards and 8 TDs to go along with 26 catches, 206 yards and 1 TD. Williams had 121 carries for 464 YDS, 3 TDS, and had 27 catches for 210 yards. Not only did McCarthy refuse to just Jones as his bell cow RB, he refused to the run the ball consistently. With a RB that averaged 5.5 YPC, the Packers only ran for 1,667 yards on the season which was 22nd in the league.

The Packers also had trouble on the OL. David Bahktari played like the best LT in the league, and Corey Linsley played good a center. Outside of that, the two guard positions saw some pretty poor play, and what seems like every year now Bryan Bulaga was in and out of the lineup with injuries and missed two games.

Things weren’t much better on defense, although there was improvement under Mike Pettine. First off, the secondary got absolutely depleted with injuries. Starting CB Kevin King only played in 6 games, Jaire Alexander missed three games, another rookie Tony Brown from Alabama got thrown into the mix and played in 11 games, Bashaud Breeland only played in 7 games, and that left the Packers CB room in flux. That wasn’t even the worst part of the secondary. At Safety the Packers finally gave up on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after 7 games and traded him to Washington. The Packers had to move Tramon Williams to safety for some stability and by the end of the year, Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice, Jermaine Whitehead, Ibraheim Campbell, Eddie Pleasant, and Raven Greene all played significant time at Safety for the Packers. Greene and Campbell were the only guys who showed any promise, which is why they are currently on the 2019 roster as of right now.

Up front, the Packers finished the year with 44.0 sacks which was 8th in the league behind sacks from 16 different guys. Kyler Fackrell came out of nowhere and led the team with 10.5 sacks, Kenny Clark was second on the team with 6.0. However Clay Matthews only recorded 3.5 and Nick Perry in 9 games only had 1.5. The Packers OLB corps outside of Fackrell was poor at getting after the QB overall. Only two guys on the team had double digit QB hits, that was Matthews and Fackrell.

Because of the injuries and lack of pass rush, the Packers gave up 25.0 PPG which was good for 22nd in the league. Even with the injuries, and poor play from the safety position the Packers only have up 234.5 passing yards per game which was 12th best in the league, but they gave up 119.9 yards per game on the ground which was 22 in the league. Overall, the Packers defense was bad but somehow they were better in 2018 than they were with Dom Capers leading them.

Even worse performance than the defense and offense was the Special Teams led by Ron Zook which was just pitiful. The Packers had the 18th ranked Special Teams according to FootballOutsiders.com and it showed. Every single ST looked inept and downright awful at some point, or for long stretches of time during the regular season. In a Week 5 loss to the Lions, Mason Crosby missed 4 field goals and one XP in a 8 point loss. The Packers constantly gave up long punt and kickoff return, and had 26 penalties which was 31st in the league.

The low part in the Packers season came during Week 13, at home against the worst offense and team in football when the Arizona Cardinals came to visit. The Packers somehow lost this game 20-17 while still somewhat in the playoff hunt.

McCarthy was fired after this game, rightly so. McCarthy had led the Packers since 2006 but his offense wasn’t producing, it was old, it was out of touch, and it was predictable. In 2018, Rodgers injury didn’t help McCarthy’s case but it was clear something was off not only between McCarthy and Rodgers but between McCarthy and the locker room. He was let go losing 5 of 6 and losing to an awful Cardinals teams to cap it all off was the last straw. The Packers ended up splitting their last four games under interim head coach Joe Philbin and ended the season 6-9-1.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

Head Coach Matt LaFluer

Evan Siegle, packers.com

With the Packers poor 2018 and the team seemingly giving up on Mike McCarthy, along with the fans, the Packers moved on and hired a young offensive coach in Matt LaFluer. We’ve gone over the hiring before, which you can here, so we’ll just go over the quick tid bits that are most important.

First of all, get off the Sean McVay talk with LaFleur. Yes, he coached under McVay for one year in Los Angeles, and with him in Washington – but LaFleur isn’t a McVay disciple per se like Zac Taylor for the Bengals is. LaFleur is going to be known as coming from the Shanahan system. From the get go in the NFL, LaFleur has been Shanahan from Houston, to Washington, to Atlanta. So that is the type of offense you should look at when you think of what the Packers will do in 2019.

For those who watch Packers regularly, they ran a type of the West Coast offense under McCarthy. The West Coast offense is based on ball control, and conservative play calling with short and intermediate passes being predominate.

Shanahan, who learned it from his father Mike does not run that so we shouldn’t expect LaFleur to run strictly a West Coast type offense. This offense likes to play aggressive, it likes multiple formations, multiple groupings, shifts, and motions. Those are things you didn’t see much of in Green Bay under McCarthy. So in short, LaFluer is going to bring in a much different type of offense than Packer fans are used to watching.

The questions for LaFleur are all about is age, if he can lead a locker room, if he can gain the respect of Rodgers who in the media has the perception that he hates to be coached and hates coaches. LaFleur does a steep hill to climb, he’s only called plays for one year and Rodgers does have a big personality. But so far, it look like LaFleur is ready for the task.

Maybe one of the best moves LaFleur made early on was keeping Mike Pettine as his defensive coordinator who made some good improvements with the Packers last year. Although the offense will start and have its bumps along the way, the Packers defense should be the stronger unit to start the year. LaFleur also brought in Nathaniel Hackett from Jacksonville to be his offensive coordinator. LaFleur will be the guy calling plays.

OLB Za’Darius Smith (4 years, $66 Million)

Packers got rid of Matthews and Perry and filled those with the Smith Brothers. Za’Darius comes from Baltimore where he started 8 games (played in all 16) and had 8.5 sacks with 25 QB hits and 10 TFL. He Packers outbid everybody else for him and he’ll look to build on the career year he had in 2018.

OLB Preston Smith (4 years, $52 Million)

Preston Smith comes over from Washington where he’s recorded 24.5 sacks in 4 years. For the Packers and their injury history, Preston also has never missed a game in four year. He recorded 4.0 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 5 TFL last year for Washington. Him and Za’Darius will start on opposite ends for Mike Pettines defense and are immediate upgrades over Matthews and Perry from last year.

S Adrian Amos ( 4 yeras, $36 Million)

The Packers needed serious safety help. They traded Ha-Ha away last year, and towards the end of the year they were just throwing random guys out there. Amos comes from rival Chicago where he had a career year. He had 2 INTs, 9 pass deflections, and 73 tackles. He comes in and will be the leader on the back end of the Packers defense.

OL Billy Turner (4 years, $28 Million)

Turner was a fill in a guy for the Broncos that did a lot of that at RG and RT for them. He was very solid in what he was doing and for his efforts the Packers offered him good money to get him out of Denver. Turner will be starting day at RG for the Packers and if Bulaga gets hurt, I would expect him to go out to RT and then the RG position get filled.

2019 Draft

Round 1 Pick #12: OLB/DE Rashan Gary

The Packers needed help on their DL, S, and OL so they had options here at 11. They went with a mini surprise pick in Rashan Gary who was falling in the draft because teams though he wasn’t productive enough, and he was a project at DE. Well interestingly enough, the Packers are going to be playing Gary at OLB, which was different from where most teams had him slotted at. Gary also doesn’t need to start right away because of the Packers signing the Smith brothers. Gary will play right away though, and he’ll be used all over line at DE, and DT in certain pass rushing packages. The kid is an athletic freak, and if the Packers staff can get him to play up to that potential then they got a steal at 11.

Round 1 Pick #21: S Darnell Savage

Packers traded up to pick Savage, another position of need for them. Savage got high praise early on from multiple players on the Packers including Davante Adams who said “He’s going to be that guy – I can tell. We definitely got a steal.” Savage is going to start right away opposite Amos for the Packers.

Round 2 Pick #44: G Elgton Jenkins

Jenkins was the final need the Packers need to fill in the draft. Jenkins will have a chance to start at LG for the Packers between him, Lane Taylor, and Cole Madison. Jenkins also has the ability to play Center, where he played in 2017 and 2018. He also has played some LT, so he’s a very versatile player that gives the Packers depth on the OL, something they’ve lacked in previous year.

Key Off Season Departures

WR Randall Cobb (lost via free agency to the Dallas Cowboys)

The writing was on the wall for Cobb for the past few years. He was injured often, and wasn’t producing at the level of his contract. Since his 2014 year where he had 1,287 yards receiving, he dipped down every year to the point where he only had 383 in 9 games last year. He goes to the Cowboys where he’ll be an upgrade for Dak Prescott from Cole Beasley. He still has some good football left in him.

OLB Clay Matthews (lost via free agency to the Los Angeles Rams)

Matthews was much like Cobb in that it seemed like he was injured often, and for what he was getting paid he wasn’t producing like he used too. At 32 years old he only had 3.5 sacks last year in 16 games, and just 12 QB hits. Again, he’s got some left in the tank and in new scenery he’ll probably have double digit sacks and be a pro bowler because, Packers.

DT Mike Daniels (released during training camp)

This was a surprising move right before training camp started as Daniels was still playing well for the Packers. The fact of the matter is that Daniels was getting paid very well, was coming off an injury, and is an older player. The Packers combined all those factors, and thought they would be better off

2019 Season Preview

The Packers have a revamped team in a lot of units that should get this team back to their winning ways. First of all on defense, this team has brand new units at Safety and on the Edge which they needed desperately.

Although the Packers didn’t finish well statistically on defense, you could see Mike Pettine making a difference on this defense. They finally have the depth, and players at CB to compete at a high level. For the longest time, the Packers secondary was fucking atrocious but with Alexander, King, Josh Jackson, and Tramon Williams – they have a solid four deep group. They obviously have a stud in Kenny Clark up front but there are some questions everywhere else on the defense. They tried to address those positions in the off-season but there are still some questions. Whose going to start at ILB opposite of Blake Martinez? It looked like it would be Oren Burks but he tore his pectoral muscle and is out indefinitely. That leaves it up to rookies Ty Summers, Curtis Bolton, and second year guy James Crawford to fill that role. Will one of them step up, or do the Packers bring in a vet that starts until they feel like one of those younger guys is good enough to start.

How do the new pieces in Green Bay fit in? The Packers are going to have a brand new OLB corps with Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashan Gary. Those are going to be the big three but the Packers also have Kyler Fackrell who was 10.5 sacks last year, and Reggie Gilbert who is still improving. That unit is going to be vital to Pettine defense, especially Za’Darius and Gary who will probably be moved inside at times on passing downs.

With the departure of Mike Daniels, who steps up at DT? Montravious Adams has made big jump according to Kenny Clark and Mike Pettine but he needs to prove it on the field. second year guy Tyler Lancaster played well at the end of the 2018 but he needs to build on that. James Looney has showed some good signs and they also have veteran Dean Lowry in the mix.

How do the new safeties gel together? Adrian Amos comes over from Chicago and Packer fans are hoping his great play wasn’t just a product of Vic Fangio and an immensely talented Bears defense. Rookie Darnell Savage is going to start opposite Amos and he has a lot of hype surrounding him. Most Packer fans are paying closer attention to the high pick Gary, but Savage is the one whose going to make the most immediate and consistent impact early on.

This defense has a great coordinator, and talent all over the field to be at the very least, a top 15 defense. This should be the best defense Aaron Rodgers as played with since they won the Super Bowl during the 2010 season. What that means is this offense could have games where they only put up 20 points, and they can actually win. What a concept.

Speaking of the offense, all the spotlight is on the Rodgers and LaFleur relationship. Where the spotlight isn’t, is what is exciting. The offensive line has been upgraded from last year with the additions of Billy Turner, Elgton Jenkins, and Cole Madison (pick from last year who never showed up for personal reasons). The OL will be better on the interior, and they finally have some depth to deal with injuries. Secondly, the WR corps may be young but everyone has another year with Rodgers and Allison is back healthy. MVS and ESQ should have better chemistry with Rodgers, as will Jimmy Graham at TE.

Davante Adams is an All-Pro WR, I would not be surprised to see him lead him the NFL in receiving TDs. At RB, the Packers need to have Aaron Jones be their guy. Too often last year he wasn’t given the carries he needed and he can be a guy who reaches that 1,500 total yard mark if he’s healthy. They have good depth with Jamal Williams and Dexter Williams (Rookie from Notre Dame), but Jones needs to be the guy.

However you’re going to see problems offensively for the Packers early on with this offense. Much has been made about Rodgers and LaFluer being on the same page with audibles and pre-snap decision, but that’s not the only thing. For the first time Rodgers is learning a new offense, that means new verbiage, new reads, new drops, new schemes, and new ways to attack. Like any new QB in a new offense, it’s going to take some time for this offense and Rodgers to adjust – even as good as he is. Expect to see some struggles early on with this team but the defense should help them stay in those games where the offense struggles.

Schedule

The NFC North gets to play the AFC West and NFC East this year. Since the Packers finished third they also draw the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.

The Packers get more than few prime time games, and most during the first half of the season. They open on Thursday Night Football at the Chicago Bears in the opening game of the ear. In Week 4 they play on Thursday Night at home against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Week 6 they play on Monday Night Football against the Detroit Lions, Week 8 they play at Kansas City, and Week 16 they play the final Monday Night Football game of the year at Minnesota. Not only that, the Packers have three chances (one for sure), to be the main late afternoon game. The for sure one comes Week 5 at Dallas. The other two happen Week 9 at the Los Angeles Chargers, and then Week 12 at San Francisco. So you will be seeing a lot of the Packers on your TV.

Fantasy Player You Want

Give me Aaron Jones all day. He should be the feature back in Green Bay, if you watched any Packer games last year you can tell he is easily the best back they have, he was the vision, speed, and explosiveness to be a 1,000 yard rusher. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He should get more carries than 133 carries and build off of his 5.5 yards per attempt from last year.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

I am going to Jimmy Graham. The TE situation for the Packers is up for grabs with Graham, Robert Tonyan, and rookie Jace Sternberger all in the mix for targets. I think Graham leads this team in fantasy points for a TE, but I’m not sure it will be enough to roster Graham week after week.

Ceiling

This team has improved all over. They have the most talented QB in the league. There may be some growing pains with a new coach and offense, but Rodgers has been hearing his name trashed since the start of last year. He’s healthy, and he’s got another chip on his shoulder. They have a tough schedule, but in my completely “unbiased view” I think this team could win 12 games even with the tough schedule.

Floor

Just like every team in the NFC North I think the floor is pretty high. If the coaching situation doesn’t work out, and the defense doesn’t improve on last year than I could see this team winning just 8 games.

via Packers.com
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1 comment on “NFL Team Previews: Green Bay Packers

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