After suffering through a three-game losing streak, the Packers won a hard-fought game against the Bears and now sit at 5-4. On offense, Hundley was an efficient passer, Adams & Cobb finally got the chance to make big plays, and the rushing attack withstood the loss of the top two running backs. The defense racked up five sacks (Nick Perry led the team with three) and ended up with an absurd 10 tackles for a loss of yards. In other words, the Packers had a strong game on both sides of the ball—whether it was running or passing. Breaking it down, here are three takeaways from the game.
Justin McCray Is A Mauler
When the Packers kept 10 offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster, speculation was rampant that McCray would be cut. Maybe that was the plan. But we’ll never know, as the offensive line suffered injuries early and often, and McCray made himself invaluable much like Don Barclay has done for the past few years. Many expected him to take a back seat to Lucas Patrick, but McCray has gotten the nod over Patrick at almost every turn.
McCray’s most impressive performances have been at right tackle. Not because he’s a superior pass blocker to Bryan Bulaga, by any means. But he has held up in pass protection, and perhaps more importantly, he’s brought a gritty aggression to the right side of the offensive line. As one might expect from a guard playing tackle, McCray kicks the run blocking up a notch.
Brett Hundleys 1st career 4th Quarter TD was impressive… but make sure you kudos to those big ugliest up front – esp RT Justin McCray… #Packers
Back to the narrations! 🎧 pic.twitter.com/OK9ebXjOxn
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) November 14, 2017
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) November 14, 2017
The barrel-chested McCray might be thought of as vulnerable to rushers off the edge in pass protection, being a guard playing tackle and all. However, he learned to utilize athleticism and footwork when he played in the Arena Football League last year. If you’re not familiar, the AFL is a pass-first league that makes the NFL seem smashmouth by comparison. He couldn’t simply rely on his power against the speed rushers in the AFL. He did everything he could to prepare himself for the NFL, and it is paying dividends.
Jamaal Williams Gets Another Shot
When Jamaal Williams was picked in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft, many speculated he might challenge Ty Montgomery for the starting job. Eventually a rookie running back did take that job, but it was fifth-round pick Aaron Jones. Jones took the job after Montgomery went down in week 4 against the Bears and has never looked back. Ty Montgomery carved out a role as a reliable third-down back, as he was both adept as a pass catcher and serviceable in pass protection, and he still flashed potential as a runner. For a while, it seemed Jamaal Williams might end up the odd man out after some speculated he would become the starter.
Even though it was a 1 yard run, Williams scored a touchdown against the Lions in week 8. Before the Bears game, I wrote that might be the first sign of an increased role for Williams as the pounder he was drafted to be. Then, against the Bears, William’s number was called after both Jones and Montgomery went down with injuries. From the start, he showed the ability to generate yards after contact he was known for in college. He only ended with 67 yards on 20 carries, good for 3.4 yards per carry, but most of those yards were earned after contact. He regularly turned what initially looked like negative yards into 3 or 4 yard runs.
— #RideTheWave (@SunsPlanet) November 12, 2017
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where, even when Jones and Montgomery are healthy, Williams gets used on early downs in a role similar to Latavius Murray in Minnesota. Murray uses his power to wear down defenses, which allows Jerick McKinnon to feast. This kind of thunder-and-lightning combination tends to become even more effective as the weather gets colder, so expect Williams to continue seeing snaps in this talented committee of running backs.
Brett Hundley Takes Command
Hundley has shown marked improvement in each game this season. Granted, that’s not necessarily saying much, but it’s visible progress. This was easily his most efficient game as a starter, as he completed 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards, posting a passer rating of 110.8 and throwing one touchdown to zero interceptions. He did commit some unfortunate errors, most notably a miserably failed hard count that ended in a completely unnecessary timeout. But he was noticeably more comfortable throwing from the pocket, faster going through his reads, and more decisive when delivering the football. He also seemed to take charge in a way he didn’t before, showing confidence in the huddle. Coming away with the victory will only help that confidence.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 12, 2017
Brett Hundley with the dime to Adams 🙌 pic.twitter.com/vnGZ8preAv
— The Brew-City Army (@brewcityarmy) November 12, 2017
This might be more of a subjective analysis, but those are two beautiful throws. If you didn’t know better, you might believe Aaron Rodgers was the one slinging those balls. The back shoulder fade to Adams, in particular, made clear Hundley has been paying attention to Rodgers these past few years. Of course, it was no coincidence both those throws were to Adams, as Hundley has the good fortune of being surrounded by talented skill players. But, as we saw with Brock Osweiler in Houston, great receivers don’t mean much if the quarterback can’t make the throws. We’ve seen Hundley can make the throws. We’ve seen the game slow down for him these past several weeks. Now we just need to see Hundley cut down on the mental errors and improve his defensive reads. If he can put it all together against the Ravens, the Packers might be on track to make the playoffs after all.