Come for the quarterback soap opera. Stay for the potential Super Bowl run!
Yes, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers organization have the kind of relationship that marriage counselors swap war stories about during tequila happy hours. And yes, rookie quarterback Jordan Love is now playing the role of sultry au pair/strapping young handyman in this dysfunctional drama.
But look past the barely-concealed tension and you’ll find a team with a dangerous pass-rush duo (Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith), a deep young secondary, a strong running game led by Aaron Jones, a better-than-you-think receiving corps led by Davante Adams, and, yes, a Hall of Fame quarterback who is still pretty darn good.
The Packers will either reach the Super Bowl or tear themselves apart this year. Either way, they’ll be appointment viewing.
Green Bay Packers 2020 Preview
Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur achieve detente. The Smiths combine for 30-plus sacks. The Packers don’t suddenly forget how to play defense in a playoff loss like they so often have in the past (see 2018, 2016, 2012). Rodgers celebrates his second Super Bowl victory with four fingers of tequila in his own little corner of the locker room.
Throwaways at the end of stalled drives, passive-aggressive press conference digs at the game plans, ill-timed defensive blowouts, and crushing losses in critical games turn the Packers into just another playoff also-ran. In other words: an all-too-typical Packers season.
Offensive Deep Dives
The two Aarons
Rodgers had the highest bad throw percentage in the NFL last season at 21.2%. He also finished second in the league to Tom Brady with 31 throwaways. Rodgers can still do things few other quarterbacks can do, but he’s no longer the sharpshooter we saw at the start of the 2010s, and he’s awfully quick to give up on a play (or start rolling out and improvising) if he doesn’t like what he sees.
Aaron Jones rushed between the tackles 107 times for 575 yards (5.4 yards per attempt) and 11 touchdowns; he finished second to Carlos Hyde in yards between the tackles and led all rushers in yards per attempt in that situation. Jones will share carries this season with second-round pick AJ Dillon, a 1970s-style thumper from Boston College. The Packers offense looked better when executing LaFleur’s balanced Rams-style game plans than they did when Rodgers reverted to his “drop back and make stuff up” habits.
Defensive Deep Dives
Smith led the NFL with 24 quarterback knockdowns and finished third in the league with 82 pass pressures. The Packers could use a fourth viable pass rusher besides the Smiths off the edge and Kenny Clark up the gut. Rashan Gary, last year’s first-round pick, could emerge as a disruptive force in blitz packages.
Opponents loved to run the ball when the Packers had six defensive backs on the field: 130 attempts for 687 yards (both league highs by a wide margin), averaging 5.3 yards per rush. Newcomer Christian Kirksey will replace Blake Martinez (Giants), but the Packers need a second inside linebacker to emerge so coordinator Mike Pettine won’t be so quick to go with a dime package on neutral downs.
The Packers run defense had issues long before the loss to the 49ers. They finished 31st in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards metric, stuffed opposing ballcarriers for no gain or a loss on just 13% of runs (31st), and allowed a first down or touchdown on 71% of short-yardage situations (27th).
Winning the NFC requires gaining every marginal edge a team can possibly find so it can keep pace with the other contenders. That’s what makes the Love selection so questionable. A speedy rookie receiver or an extra piece for the front seven could have been what pushed the Packers past the 49ers, Saints, and other NFC contenders. By trying to avoid future Rodgers-led disappointing finishes, the Packers may well have set themselves up for one.
Green Bay Packers 2020 Prediction
10-6, tied for first in the NFC North