It was not long ago that I had written a post detailing what had been fueling the Packers hot 4-1 start. A few days later the entire landscape of the team had changed when Aaron Rodgers had broken his collar bone against the Vikings. The team went from one of the hottest in the league to a team that need to fight to be competitive each week. The next 7 game resulted in 4 losses to only 3 wins. The Green Bay Packers now sit at 7-6 needing to “run the table” for a second year in a row to make the playoffs.
One underlying story line in all of this is the evolution the team went though without Rodgers. This team learned how to run the ball, and now has two promising rookie options at the running back position. The teams defense has continued to be opportunistic in creating turnovers. The special teams showed that it can be excellent at times. These things likely happened because the team no longer had Rodgers to lean on. Believe it or not, the team having to learn to play without Rodgers may have made it stronger than it would have been had he not gotten hurt.
The Newfound Running Game
The Green Bay Packers can run the football plenty effectively, something that has not been said since 2014. The transition back to a dangerous offense may not be as quick as we may think for the Packers. The good news is that the run game is going to smooth the transition. As potent as the rushing attack has been lately, it has yet to operate with an Aaron Rodgers led passing attack. The rushing attack will be more potent with Rodgers at quarterback just as the passing attack will be more potent with Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones providing a threat to run the ball.
I wrote scouting reports on both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams this summer. I was impressed with what I saw in both guys, particularly Jones. The two have combined for just over 100 total yards and 10 touchdowns this season despite not being major factors until midway through the 4th game of the season. Jones averages 5.2 yards per carry, and Williams averages 3.6 yards. The two are different backs. The main difference I have noted is that Williams is a better pass protector while Jones is a better pass catcher. They are both a good fit in this offense going forward. They do not restrict what the offense can do personnel wise like a power back such as Eddie Lacy could. You can line them up anywhere which adds to the versatility of this offense. If Aaron Rodgers comes out of the gate a little bit rusty, look for those two to keep the offense upright.
The Packers defense has continued to struggle throughout this stretch of games without Rodgers. The defense forced 13 turnovers in that span of 8 games to go with the 9 it forced in the first 5 games of the season. The Packers are currently tied for 6th best in turnovers forced this season with 22. While the defense was doing a good job forcing turnovers prior to the injury, the fact that the team has consistently taken the ball away throughout the season is very promising.
An offense quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers is not going to give up many interceptions, furthermore the Packers have only given the ball away via fumble 4 times this season. Everyone knows that winning the turnover battle in a game makes your odds of winning increase by a considerable margin. The defense can keep this team in games by being opportunistic while the offense continues to take good care of the football. Players on this defense like Damarious Randall and Clay Matthews who have their ups and downs are often good for taking advantage of the other teams mistakes. The turnover battle will play large in how this season pans out.
It is far from a secret that Mike McCarthy had to change up his play calling to better suit Brett Hundley as a quarterback. At times over the last few seasons the Packers offense has gotten stale. Many have put the blame on non-creative play calling. McCarthy was forced to try different things with his situation at quarterback, and that could continue now that Rodgers is set to return. The Packers offense moved very well at times with Brett Hundley, so in theory placing Aaron Rodgers in the offense should make it run even better. If you set Aaron Rodgers up to win games with good play calling, he is going to do just that. That running game I referenced earlier will set up things like play action or stacked boxes against the run which will open up the playbook more and aide the passing game.
The Packers have some positive factors to supplement Rodgers return. The Packers have also seen significant improvement from last season to now from guys like Blake Martinez, Kenny Clark, Damarious Randall, and even Davante Adams who is playing some outstanding football. Whether or not that translates to major success on the field remains to be seen. They will have to play very well to make the playoffs at 10-6. If they are able to win out, they could easily be the scariest team in the NFC.