After a season that started with the highest of expectations but has been more up than down through the first 12 games, everything finally came together for the Packers in a 38-10 route of the hated Seahawks. So complete was the performance from the Packers that Cheeseheads everywhere were able to watch almost the entire 2nd half without much worry of a late collapse, even against a team responsible for two of the worst heartbreaks in Packers history. Lets take a deeper look-this should be fun.
What We Learned: The Packers are finding their identity on offense.
13 games into the 2016 season, the Packers offense looks to have found an identity that it can sustain throughout the rest of the year, even with a hobbled Aaron Rodgers. Using short passes and a mix of backfield looks to open up the run game and occasional down-field pass, the Packers offense once again looks formidable.
The improvement starts with the phenomenal play of late by Rodgers. With the team backed into a corner following a 4-6 start, Rodgers showed leadership by setting the team’s expectations at running the table. Halfway there (at least the regular season portion), Rodgers has put the team on his back with a string of nearly flawless performances, capped off by a 150.8 QB rating against the formidable Seahawks defense. Earl Thomas or no Earl Thomas, that defense is still loaded.
Beyond the Quarterback, the offense has picked up its play across the board. The Offensive Line has been fantastic most of the season, but the last couple performances have been particularly impressive, as they have allowed a less-mobile Rodgers to stand comfortably in the pocket and pick out his receivers. The Running Backs are playing the best they have all year, as Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael are hitting holes with authority and delivering the blow at the point of contact.
Davante Adams’ continued emergence on the outside has been as big of a factor as any in opening up the offense. I discussed his improvement at length, but his precise, sudden route-running has allowed him to become a deep threat even though he lacks ideal speed. He jukes and hand-fights with such authority at the start of his routes that press coverage is now a risk or he will burn you deep, as he did to Jeremy Lane on the 3rd play from scrimmage. Underneath, Cobb and Nelson are providing the safety net Rodgers needs when other options are covered.
If Mike McCarthy can stick to what has been working these last few weeks, the Packers can accomplish everything they set out to this year.
What We Hope We Learned: The young Packers secondary still might become the ball-hawking unit the team envisioned.
Heading into the season, I had hopes that the Packers might be building their own version of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, as Ted Thompson had invested heavily in the unit in the last two off-seasons and the players gave reason for optimism with impressive performances in 2015. However, injuries to the top 3 Cornerbacks and the Safety unit failing to develop into a true ball-hawking pair left the Packers disappointed with the Secondary’s performance through the first 12 games of the year.
The Seattle game completely changed the narrative for the Secondary, however, as the unit came up with 5 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Two of the interceptions were the result of phenomenal plays by Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall (Randall’s might have been the play of the year so far by the Defense), while the others were the result of players taking advantage when opportunity presented itself. While there was certainly an element of luck involved, good teams and good players tend to have more lucky plays like the ones the Packers converted Sunday.
Just as importantly, the unit limited the big plays of the speedy Seahawks receivers. After Wilson missed Graham deep on Seattle’s first drive, the Secondary did not allow a Seahawk to get behind them all game. Morgan Burnett, the primary player responsible for limiting Graham to 16 yards receiving, turned in one of his best games as a Packer, while Doug Baldwin was held mostly in check as well.
One game does not a season make, and the Green Bay Secondary accumulated a lot more sins through the first 12 weeks than one game could atone for, even one as sweet as Sunday’s. Clinton-Dix will need to improve his coverage at the back, while the Cornerbacks will need to show that they can compete with speedy Receivers away from the slow track that Lambeau Field becomes in December. But the Packers Secondary turned in one of their better performances in years Sunday, a game that they will hope can propel them down the stretch into reaching their potential as a unit.
What We Hope Isn’t True: The Packers pass rush will struggle against better Offensive Lines.
The Seahawks have the lowest-paid Offensive Line in the NFL, as GM John Schneider, faced with a number of core players who needed contract extensions at other positions, has allocated just 4.17% of the team’s salary cap to the unit. For comparison’s sake, the second lowest-paid O-Line makes more than double what the Seahawks are paid, while the Packers rank 17th in the league at 13.92%. On Sunday, the Seattle line earned their (relatively) paltry paychecks.
Although the Lines that the Packers will face in the next two weeks-Chicago and Minnesota-are also among the worst-performing in the league, the Packers will need to produce a consistent pass rush against better units if they are to go on the run we are all hoping for. The Cowboys and their world-beating Line figure to stand in the way of any team hoping to make the Super Bowl out of the NFC, while the Lions boast a solid unit that the Packers will have to contend with just to make the playoffs.
Statistically, the Packers have a solid pass rush, ranking 5th in the league in sacks. However, the overall performance of the pass defense this year has been sub-par (Seattle game notwithstanding), and the Packers will need to kick their pass rush into a higher gear in order to help the Secondary.
The Packers got help from a variety of sources on Sunday, which was crucial given Nick Perry’s absence and Clay Matthews’ limited role. Jayrone Elliott continued to show that if he gets consistent playing time, he will produce more often than not. Dean Lowry recorded a sack for the 2nd straight game and also applied the pressure that made Russell Wilson rush an early throw to Jimmy Graham that would have been a 58-yard TD had it been on-target. Even though he has a long way to go, it looks like the Packers might have found at least a solid rotational player in Lowry. Anybody who can close the deal in sacking Wilson, especially one-handed, is A-OK in my book.
Perhaps the most important pass-rusher for the Packers down the stretch will be Julius Peppers. The old man has started to show he has some juice left these last few games, and now his quiet early season form just looks like it was all a part of the plan to have him ready down the stretch. He will need to empty out whatever he has left in his tank down the stretch in order to earn his elusive first championship, as the Packers have never needed him more.