When all of us fans got our first look at the Packers 2017 schedule, we could not help but notice the difficulty, especially the first 5 weeks. At home vs. Seattle Week 1, going to the opening of the new stadium in Atlanta, and Heading back to Dallas to face the Cowboys all looked like stiff challenges. Only some of the most optimistic Packer fans expected the team to make it out of that stretch with only 1 loss, especially given this teams history of slow starts.
The fact that the team has done as well as they have with a number of important injuries is incredible. They’ve had young guys step up. They’ve had 3 rookies make major contributions to games. It is hard to ignore the poor performance the team displayed at Atlanta, but the team has taken a definite step in the right direction in the time since. After an impressive late game comeback against the Cowboys, the Packers are currently ranked top 3 by all major power rankings sources.
Where has all this success been coming from? You may be wondering. In this article, I’ll examine why exactly the Packers are playing at a high level. Who is playing well? What is working well? It will all be in here.
Aaron Rodgers has been brilliant
In 5 games this season he has thrown for 13 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 66.7 percent, and a game yardage average of 273.4 YPG. You may wonder why this is even relevant given all of the success Rodgers has had in his career. I will tell you exactly why it is relevant, have you seen the offensive line the Packers have featured in these first 5 games? Rodgers has been sacked 19 times thus far this season, while only being sacked 35 times in 16 games last season.
Aaron Rodgers has shown he can get the job done with a sub par offensive line, so we do not really know what to expect from the offense when Bakhtiari and Bulaga are back and completely healthy. We saw a line last season that could pass block for what seemed like an eternity. TJ Lang is no longer with the team, but his replacement Jahri Evans has shown he still has something left in the tank. Lane Taylor has also played better from this year compared to last, and really saved the team with his adequate play at left tackle the past to weeks. The Packers 2016 “Run the Table” offense was very much predicated on the offensive lines ability to pass block effectively. It is incredible what the offense has done without both of their star tackles. There is no reason why the offense shouldn’t take a step forward when both return healthy.
The Emergence of Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark
The 2016 draft class has had its fair share of disappointments in guys like Jason Spriggs and Kyler Fackrell. If you want to talk about players making the jump from year 1 to year two, look no further than Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark. You could also put Dean Lowry in that category, but we will focus on the other two. Martinez and Clark have been extremely valuable against the run. Kenny Clark has only 13 tackles thus far, however what Kenny Clark does for this defense will not necessarily show up on the stat sheet. Clark ruins run plays upfront on a consistent basis on tape. It has prompted some people to declare him a future star, but i’m with the minority who think that Clark is already a star player. If you don’t believe me, check out some of the film clips of him posted by myself and others on Twitter. If stopping the run wasn’t enough, he also leads the team in QB pressures.
Blake Martinez has taken command at inside linebacker opposite safety Josh Jones in their nitro package. His run stopping ability has allowed them to stay in that nickel defense with a safety at linebacker throughout the game. Unlike Clark, Martinez’s impact does show up on the stat sheet with 37 tackles and 1 sack through 5 games. His production so far sets him on pace for nearly 120 tackles on the year, most likely leading the team. Martinez has shown some growing pains when it comes to coverage, but overall he has not been too bad.
The Unexpected Resurgence of Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews is just out there proving everyone wrong this season. He’s not anywhere near the washed up player people made him out to be. All sorts of people wanted the man cut, but he is still on the team making contributions. The most impressive thing about his play thus far is that he has contributed important plays in run defense and pass coverage in addition to rushing the passer. We have seen Clay Matthews blow up run plays in the backfield this season. We have seen Clay Matthews defend passes brilliantly, one leading to a pick 6. We have also seen Clay Matthews contribute 2.5 sacks, one of which resulted in a fumble recovered by Jake Ryan. Matthews has been one of the best players on this defense thus far, and although he isn’t the elite player we saw in 2010…He is still very important to this team.
The Contributions Made by Rookies
Three rookies have played extensive time thus far this season. Those rookies are Kevin King, Josh Jones, and Aaron Jones. This kind of reminds me of 2014 when HHCD, Davante Adams, and Richard Rodgers made key contributions in a successful season. As it currently stands, Kevin King is the best cornerback on the roster. The 6″3″ speedy rookie has a legitimate chance at becoming a shutdown corner in the future. It is easy to tell what he means to this defense already, when his absence with a concussion is already a key story line heading into week 6 of his first season. Josh Jones wasn’t on the field overly often the first two weeks, but now hardly misses a snap after an impressive game verses the Bengals. He has locked down the nitro linebacker spot opposite Martinez. Jones combo of size and speed is an element the Packers have sorely lacked at the inside linebacker position in the past.
Now let me talk about Aaron Jones for a little bit, as I love to do. I wrote a scouting report on Jones back in July, and I must say that I was not overly excited about him before I put the research in. After watching him on tape, viewing his athletic numbers, and making the realization that he was a perfect fit for our offense…I knew he was capable of what we saw last week at Dallas. Jones has every bit of athleticism he needs to succeed, especially in terms of agility. He has picked up the offense nicely and shown pass blocking ability. If he continues to dominate as he did last week , he will be hard to keep off the field even when Montgomery returns. I have to add that I do not think he has stolen the starting job from Montgomery just yet, although it is possible going forward.
Is there any other aspects that you think are contributing to the Packers 4-1 start? Let us know in the comment section or tweet at us @PTTF_Podcast. You can also interact with me @TrackOnPack. Thanks for reading, and as always GO PACK GO!