Aaron Rodgers is a confident man. So confident in his coaches, teammates, and his own abilities that in a locker room interview last week he was quoted saying “I feel like we can run the table, I really do.” Monday night in Philadelphia, Rodgers and the Packers took the first step in proving that they weren’t just empty words. They proved there is in fact life in this locker room and that the Packers still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
After all the injuries, poor performances, and media criticism, this team may just have enough left in the tank for a late season push back into the playoff picture. With that being said, one win over a young and inconsistent Philadelphia Eagles squad doesn’t automatically catapult them into Super Bowl contention. There are a few things that still need to improve for this to become a true reality, and they need to happen in a hurry with games against Houston, Seattle and all three division foes left on the schedule. Here are the five things I believe the Packers must do to run the table:
1. Get Christine Michael Involved
During his time in Seattle, Michael averaged 4.0 yards per carry (YPC) behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines. If Green Bay can get him up to speed with the playbook and work him in a little more each week moving forward, he should provide a boost in the run game; an area where the Packers have struggled to establish a consistent threat all season. Running behind a far better offensive line here with the Packers, Michael must become the go-to guy in the backfield. James Starks has had his chance and only mustered 141 yards on 2.5 YPC in 7 games this year. Starks just does not offer enough in the run game to balance the Green Bay offense. If Michael fails to take snaps away from Starks, this playoff push might be over before it even begins.
2. Use the No Huddle Early and Often
Mike McCarthy is a great offensive mind. He also has the luxury of having a future Hall of Fame quarterback at his disposal in Aaron Rodgers. One of his biggest challenges throughout the season has been whether or not to utilize the no huddle offense. It was unstoppable in 2014 but struggled in 2015. McCarthy found his blueprint on Sunday night. The early tempo needs to be fast paced, with short throws methodically moving the ball down the field while chewing up clock. This allows Rodgers and company to get into rhythm while masking the team’s weakness: the defense. Moving forward, fast starts and early scores will be key to the team’s success.
3. Get Healthy, Stay Healthy
With a slew of injuries effecting damn near every area on this team, it is without question a high priority to get healthy in a hurry and stay healthy for the remainder of the season. With players like Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan nearing returns to bolster the middle of the defense, and TJ Lang and JC Tretter on offense, the Packers could be as close to full strength as they’ve been since the opening day of training camp. The sooner the better. And let’s hope the injury bug has left the building for the season. It’s unfortunate to know we will not see Eddie Lacy or Sam Shields for the remainder of the season, or maybe ever for that matter. But with the current 53 man roster fully healthy, I feel they have enough to make some noise going forward.
4. Flip The Turnover Ratio
Through the first 11 games of the season the Packers have a turnover ratio of -5, ranking them tied for 23rd in the NFL overall. Offensively they have 16 giveaways, ranking them 12th. Defensively they rank 23rd with 11 takeaways. If they plan to pull this off come seasons end, they undoubtedly need to get that flipped to a positive number. With Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall healthy, the cornerbacks, who have managed only one interception this year, need to step up and take the ball away.
A key statistic to remember going forward: Over the past five full seasons, NFL teams with a positive turnover ratio have a combined record of 810-220-2 (.786 pct). Winning the turnover battle in every game going forward is key to the success of running the table.
5. Win on 3rd Downs
Offensively, the Packers have been near the top of the league on third downs all season. They currently rank 2nd overall converting on 49% of third downs. The offense showed no signs of struggles against the Eagles on Monday night with an NFL season high 71% conversion rate. The results of that stat speaks for itself.
Defensively, the Packers have struggled to get off the field on third downs. Green Bay ranks 22nd overall with opponents converting 42% of their 3rd downs. If Dom Capers and his defense can find a way to bring that number closer to 35%, the Packers are in business. Getting off the field 3 or 4 plays earlier a few times a game can quickly turn a loss into a win. Keeping the defense fresh and giving Aaron Rodgers more opportunities to score is an obvious recipe for success. Winning third down on both sides of the ball will be important if this team has plans for the post season.
“I feel like we can run the table, I really do.” If Aaron Rodgers believes it, I believe it. The first step of this optimism is complete. Although I am not convinced it will take a sweep of the remaining games to ultimately win the NFC North (I believe they can lose one non-division game), I think these five contributing factors coming to fruition makes it a real possibility. We are in for a fun, crazy, nerve-racking, and very meaningful 5 weeks for our beloved organization. So, for all of the Packer faithful out there, stay positive, have faith and trust in the 2 time MVP quarterback we have. Because, in the end, what else can we really hang our hats on at this point?
Do you think the packers can run the table? What do you think it would take for that to happen?