What We Learned: Week 2, at Minnesota
What We Learned: The Offense Still Has Not Figured Out Its Issues
Like many of you, I hoped that the a number of factors–the improved health of the Offensive Line, Eddie Lacy losing weight, the return of Jordy Nelson, the addition of Jared Cook–would combine to help the Packers offense return to the elite status it has enjoyed throughout the Rodgers era. Unfortunately, the Offensive Line lost its most skilled performer in Josh Sitton, Eddie Lacy hardly looks any smaller (and if he did lose weight it certainly did not do much to improve his game), Jordy Nelson is still nowhere near 100%, and Jared Cook has yet to get involved in the offense in a major way.
More so than any of the above issues, however, the play of Aaron Rodgers is particularly troubling. While the cast around him is certainly not playing up to par, at this point it would be tough to argue that he is not part of the problem. His ball security was inexcusably bad against the Vikings, and like last year, he is missing open receivers at an alarming rate.
After some positive signs in week one, the offense took a major step back in Minnesota and it is now fair to start asking some difficult questions about the unit. But, as we are only two weeks in and the Packers have started the year with two very difficult road games, we can hold off on the sky-is-falling discussion for now. The Packers have the perfect opportunity to get back on track in front of them-four winnable home games in a row, with a bye week mixed in. However, if we are seeing the same issues by the time the calendar turns to November, it will be time to re-assess this offense’s-and team’s-capabilities.
What We Think We Learned: The Packers Run Defense Is Actually Pretty Good
Through two games, the Packers run defense has been better than anyone could have expected, especially given the limited personnel on the Defensive Line. After holding the Jaguars to 1.8 yards per carry, the Packers figured to come back down to Earth against the ever-dangerous Adrian Peterson. Instead, the Packers dominated the line of scrimmage and held the Vikings to just 30 yards on 22 carries, a 1.4 yard average.
Mike Daniels played like a man possessed on Sunday night, and has clearly elevated his game following his contract extension. The guy just clearly loves playing football and mixing it up in the trenches. Kenny Clark also acquitted himself well in his first extended role.
Perhaps most encouraging was the play of the Inside Linebackers. Blake Martinez came in with the reputation of a being a top coverage linebacker, but there were questions about his size and ability to hold up inside. From the way he took on and stood up Adrian Peterson on a couple occasions early, he showed he belongs on the field on early downs as well.
Jake Thomas is off to a solid start to his second year and has solidified one of the early-down Linebacker roles. And, in what is a major surprise, Joe Thomas has established himself as a legitimate NFL player after looking over-matched in his first couple years. The 10+ pounds he added in the off-season have clearly added some needed authority to his game without robbing him of any of his burst.
So far, so good on what was perhaps the biggest question surrounding the team coming into the season.
What We Hope Isn’t True: Mike McCarthy Will Be Unable to Turn The Offense Around
The clear story of the Minnesota game is the continued poor play of the offense. I took Rodgers to task above, so now I’ll turn to the man running the show: Mike McCarthy. While I have been a defender of Mike McCarthy more often than not, his offensive scheme and play-calling have become a major hindrance to the offense.
The Packers offense that confounded defenses from 2009 through 2014 now looks stale and unimaginative. Perhaps that is because the Packers offense looks remarkably similar to the one that was so successful throughout that time. The Packers are still running the same long-developing deep route combinations whether the personnel to be successful on them is there or not, and the when a team has blatantly been running the same play-action plays for years, something is not right.
For a team with 7 Receivers and two legit weapons each at Tight End and Running Back, the Packers scheme is pretty…boring. The Packers are running almost exclusively 3WR-1TE-1RB formations, with Nelson, Cobb, and Adams getting the vast majority of snaps at WR. Trevor Davis, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, and Jeff Janis (limited by injury to Special Teams duty only) have played a combined 31 snaps at WR through two games. This needs to change. Abbrederis has taken advantage of every chance he has had for playing time, while Montgomery looked like an emerging threat in 2015 before his injury. The Packers need to experiment with some 4 and 5 WR sets and actually use the receivers at their disposal.
The most troubling part is, these issues are nothing new. The season the Packers had last year basically begged for an overhaul of the offensive scheme, but instead the Packers decided to just roll the ball out again and hope that what previously worked would work once more. This was a pretty cocky strategy, and unfortunately it looks like the rest of the league has caught on.
Will Mike McCarthy be able to turn things around? At this point that is anyone’s guess. But we should all hope he can, because the Packers are one of the most change-averse organizations in all of sports and McCarthy is not going anywhere soon.