The 2019 Green Bay Packers have had quite the opening to the season that we’re not accustomed to seeing out of them. This past summer, general manager Brian Gutekunst was active in bringing free agents on defense to finally create a defensive team reminiscent of their Super Bowl run nine seasons ago.
Whether you’re a veteran fan or a newcomer, it’s no surprise that this team has always been led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
And, rightfully so.
The Packers have been blessed to have a quarterback that has shouldered a heavy burden of bad Packers teams in the past with his incredible play. You look at certain teams across the league, and if you were to remove their starting quarterback, you’d probably go, “well, their season is over.”
Which was a true statement for the Packers not that long ago when Rodgers sustained heavy injuries such as the broken collarbone in 2017 or the knee injury in 2018. This is a team that relies heavily on Rodgers year in and year out.
Now? Perhaps that won’t need to be the case in 2019, and for Packers fans, moving into seasons beyond. Rodgers will turn 36 in December and Gutenkunst will have to think about their next quarterback in the not-too-distant future. Even if you’re Tom Brady, you will hang up the cleats at some point.
But when you start to create an identity on defense that has really started to shine, then you look at recent Super Bowl teams that held their own on defense in crucial moments. Again — something the Packers haven’t been known for in the regular season or the playoffs. All I have to type is the “NFC Championship game” and your heart should already begin to hurt.
Acquiring Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith via free agency — who is now known as Super Smith Bros. — drafting rookie safety Darnell Savage, taking away a huge defensive weapon from the Chicago Bears in Adrian Amos, and having a rising defensive stud in Jaire Alexander, the Packers haven’t had this much talent on defense in a long, LONG time.
The #Packers' Jaire Alexander may be the NFL's next shutdown CB 📈
— PFF (@PFF) September 26, 2019
And to have instant impact on the field? Well, that’s not fair.
Sometimes it takes a few games for a new defensive unit to gel together on the field, but give huge credit to second-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine on getting his guys ready from the word “go.”
They opened the season in spectacular fashion holding the Bears to just three points on the road. The game was marked by a satisfying interception by Amos to stick it to his old team. Then they followed it up with a 16-point effort against Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings at the home opener at Lambeau Field with two more interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
— NFL (@NFL) September 6, 2019
Savage and a fellow rookie draft pick, Rashan Gary, chimed in with their first takeaways of the season, with an interception and fumble recovery, respectively, against the Denver Broncos to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Again, instant impact from a Packers defense that is ranked 10th in total defense giving up just 17.2 points per game, according to NFL Stats. They also have eight total takeaways through four weeks after having 15 all of last season.
Where they’ve been gashed, however, has been on the ground. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook gashed them for 154 yards and a touchdown — 75 of those yards came on one play. Then, they couldn’t stop the Broncos’ lone weapon in Phillip Lindsay running wild for 81 tough yards and two scores.
Where the wheels completely fell off was against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday Night Football in Week 4. The combined efforts of running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders erupted for 159 yards and two touchdowns — Howard would also score one from the flat, completing his hat trick on the night.
Playing on a short week can be a nightmare for some teams and on that night, it was for the Packers. They suffered their first loss of the season and for the first time, their defense looked out of character. If you watched that game, then you’ll remember the gaping holes Philly’s running backs ran through and seeing the dominant pass rush get tossed around like rag dolls.
But where the defense finally faltered, the offense came to life.
Rodgers hasn’t played to the explosive-level that we’re used to seeing in season’s past when he had Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to work with. Nelson retired and the Packers felt it was time to move on from Cobb. However, Adams has remained a dominant number one receiver but the rest of wide receiver corp has yet to pan out.
Jimmy Graham has caught two touchdowns in a make-or-break season — which he has yet to fully put it together after we’ve seen how dominant he can be after playing for the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.
How did Aaron Rodgers throw that touchdown amazing pic.twitter.com/qwJHrJUC82
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) September 27, 2019
It’s not all bad as Marquez Valdes-Scantling looks like he’s taking that next step to be a favorite target of Rodgers. We know what true chemistry between Rodgers and receivers looks like from year’s past and this remains a hopeful connection of things to come.
Especially, if Adams is going to miss time due to turf toe he suffered against the Eagles after having a career-high 180 receiving yards. It won’t be easy by any means, but this next wave of receivers is going to have to step up if this season is going to be a successful one.
Thankfully, the Packers do employ one of the most consistent running backs in Aaron Jones. He’s not going to wow you with 100+ yard games or multiple touchdowns per game — which he is very capable of — but a back who knows the down and situation and will usually come out on top.
Rookie head coach Matt LaFleur is perfectly aware of his offensive group’s ceiling and has done enough to put his team in positive situations with positive plays. They won’t always be the home run plays but plays that will keep the offense on the field, much like the Vikings and Broncos games. And in full-perfect form, the Eagles game.
Despite the loss, you hope that the offense has fully come to life with big plays, sustaining drives and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. Because there are some tough, tough games that await the Packers on their schedule.
Look, it’s a long season and a lot of things can happen between Week 4 and Week 17. If the Packers are going to win this division, playoffs, and the Super Bowl, you’ll need the best of both worlds to co-exist on the field.
The new-look defense and the explosive offense of old can mold into one true contending team that’ll have the look of a Super Bowl contender we haven’t seen since 2010. The Packers have the coaches and pieces for a run in 2019. Can they execute it remains the question.