Everything changed this season for the Packers based on one man breaking his collar bone. This isn’t just any man we are taking about however. We are talking about the most talented quarterback ever to step onto the field, Aaron Rodgers. Since the injury to Rodgers the team has dropped two straight games. Despite this, the team sits at 4-3 fresh out of the bye week.
We haven’t seen good samples of Brett Hundley’s play to properly evaluate him. That is not me being optimistic, it’s the truth. Hundley got thrust into a game against a good defense against the vikings, then was not set up to succeed by his coaching staff the following week. The team leaned on the running game and gave Hundley little ability to shine. Nearing the end of the game, the Packers elected to run against stacked boxes rather than allow Hundley a chance to throw the ball. He has to be given the ability to change the play at the line in that situation or the running game will be less effective. We will learn a lot about the ability of Brett Hundley and how the team intends to use him next Monday against Detroit.
We do not know what exactly the rest of the season has in store for us post injury. Certainly when your team loses by far its most important player, your expectations for the season will not be what they were before. The past two games are likely won if not for Rodgers absence in my opinion, but that is the reality the team faces. There will be games lost this year that would have been won. In this article, I’ll go over some updated expectations. I’ll offer a positive standpoint, a more pessimistic standpoint, and finish with what I think is a realistic outcome for this team.
Impact of the Bye Week
For the Packers, the bye week could not have come at a much better time. It allows Brett Hundley another week of preparation, in addition to giving injured players an extra week to recover. It is very promising to see players like Morgan Burnett and Lane Taylor on the practice field. Getting Taylor back in the starting lineup means the 5 starting offensive linemen will return to the field, something the team desperately needs. Both starting tackles should be more healthy coming out of the bye week as well. News just broke that Jason Spriggs will being practicing right away and will be eligible to return from injured reserve in two weeks. While he did not play well in the preseason, Spriggs represents depth at the tackle and even guard position.
Morgan Burnett represents one of those players that makes the entire defense play better when he is on the field. He truly is the quarterback of the defense. The Packers are 5-7 and have allowed almost 50 more yards on defense in games when Burnett has not played since 2013. We saw plenty of defensive confusion against the Vikings and Saints, which we can only hope is a product of Burnett’s absence. Aside from his ability to make others play better, Burnett has also played well on the field this season. The team still awaits players like Ahmad Brooks, Joe Thomas, and Kentrell Brice were to become healthy, but looks healthy overall at the moment.
Expectations from a Positive Perspective
The new found running game will need to be a huge factor for this team to be able to reach the playoffs. Aaron Jones is the real deal. Playing in only 4 games, Jones has 346 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns with a very impressive 5.6 YPC average. As we know, there has to be some semblance of a passing threat for the running game to be truly successful. As I referenced earlier, the running game is much less effective when teams are stacking the box.
If Brett Hundley can become more of a threat throwing the football, this team can undoubtedly win games. An improved passing attack coupled with what we know Aaron Jones can do in the backfield could certainly put up points, then it is just up to the defense to hold up its end of the bargain. Defensively this team has bright spots and areas that are holding it back. While players like Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez have done outstanding, other players like Haha Clinton-Dix have not played up to their potential. The pass rush hasn’t been there when they’ve need it to be. Things like that need to improve. One more thing, I’d like to note that Damarious Randall now currently has an interception in each of the last 3 games, let that sink in.
If we are talking best case scenario for the Packers this season, I still think they could make the playoffs. The Packers will be playing an easier portion of their schedule for the next 6 games. They’ll see the struggling Lions at home who they have historically done well against in Green Bay. They will also have meetings with the 4-4 Baltimore Ravens and the 2-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They will travel to Chicago to face the 3-5 Bears, later to Cleveland to face the win-less Brown, and have a test game at Pittsburgh. Apart from the Steelers, none of those games represent a truly significant challenge. If they could escape that 6 game stretch with 4 wins, the team would be sitting at 8-5 with 3 games remaining. While we do not know if Rodgers will return, most tend to think it is a long shot. This team may need to make the playoffs on its own to see the return of their quarterback. At that point, anything would be possible.
Expectations from a Less Positive Perspective
I’m not one to be pessimistic about the Packers, so I’ll keep this brief. The team did not look good against the Saints. We could see Brett Hundley continue to struggle, resulting in an offense that won’t put up many points. The defense hasn’t shown anything that allows me to believe they could win game with a low scoring offense. If those things continue, this team could finish in the 6-10 to 8-8 range.
Why could that lower finish be important? The Packers have not picked a player on the lower end of the first round since 2009. Say the Packers were picking in the 12-19 range, they would have a better chance of hitting big on a player. I referenced our lack of pass rush earlier, impact pass rushers can often be best found in the top 20 picks. It wouldn’t have to be a pass rusher either, they could pick a wideout, another cornerback, or even a tight end if Bennett follows through with his retirement plan. The swing in picks would continue throughout all 7 rounds in addition to the comp pick the team will receive. This could be a draft that the Packers hit really big on. They will also likely come into 2018 with an improved running game with a talented young back who fits the offense well. The future would look bright for the Green Bay Packers.
My Expected Outcome
It is hard to know what to expect ahead of Mondays game against Detroit. I do expect Brett Hundley to play better now then he did last week and progressively build as the weeks go on. I truly see 5 very winnable games in the next 6. The Packers will probably need to steel a win on the road against the Panthers, Steelers, or Lions to make the playoffs. I’m not ready to count this team out yet, I think they are a 10-6 team at best and a 6-10 team at worst. The team must win without Rodgers now to have a chance at having him back later. Success will most likely correlate with how effective the passing attack is in addition to the overall health of the team.
How do you think the Packers season will pan out? Let us know in the comments section or tweet at us @PTTF_Podcast. You can tweet at me directly @TrackOnPack. Thanks for reading and as always…Go Pack GO!