By: Alex Yu
Under coach Matt Lafleur, the Green Bay Packers never lost two games in a row. Now they sit at 3-6 after losing 5 straight. What went wrong? How did their season collapse so quickly? Who’s to blame? Here, I break down every aspect where the packers have been lacking this season.
Quarterback: So far through 9 weeks, future hall of famer Aaron Rodgers has not looked like his past self in the slightest. The former back-to-back MVP has already thrown 7 interceptions, his most in a season since 2016, and it’s only week 10. He’s posted a passer rating of 89.0, which would land as the lowest of his career in a single season. Any avid Packers fan will notice a huge decline in his play when watching, with Rodgers overthrowing wide open receivers and missing other easy throws. He has also stayed away from throwing the ball to the middle of the field, despite receivers very often getting open there. Last week against the lions was especially bad when he missed wide receiver Allen Lazard on a post route that had the potential to go the distance. The quarterback also missed tight end Robert Tonyan multiple times running deep crossing routes in the middle of the field. He’s been overall inaccurate.
Running Back: I originally wasn’t going to include a running back section since Aaron Jones has been playing well, but there are a couple things to touch on. AJ Dillon has recently looked like a shell of his former self. He only averages 2.98 yards after contact, which ranks 25th. It’s very easy to see how much less explosive he is this season just at a glance. There was a point where Aaron Jones was ranked number one against a stacked box, and AJ Dillon was second to last.
Wide Receiver: Yes, Davante Adams is gone. That shouldn’t completely explain the Packers level of receiver troubles right now though. Now, there have been some injuries, with Randall Cobb missing 2-6 weeks with an ankle injury, and Sammy Watkins being put on injury reserve with a hamstring injury (who has since returned). Rookie Christian Watson has also dealt with a nagging hamstring injury, as well as being on concussion protocol multiple weeks. Romeo Doubs suffered a high ankle sprain against the Detroit Lions last Sunday, which will sideline him 4-6 weeks. The Packers have been needing players like rookie Romeo Doubs and Allen Lazard to step up in place of Davante Adams, and they’ve been executing mildly well. Doubs has definitely shown flashes of being a star receiver, and Allen Lazard has been mostly consistent, being as close to a WR1 as the Packers have. Since returning, Sammy Watkins has gotten only 4 catches in 130 snaps, and has looked very sluggish at 29 years old. The young receiving core has also had their fair share of drops with 17, tied for 3rd in the league with the Chargers.
Offensive Line: The Packers once elite offensive line has looked awfully mediocre this year. Left tackle David Bakhtiari has been on and off the field this year, with the torn ACL he suffered in December 2020 still lingering to this day. With the multiple injuries to the Packers O-line this year, they’ve had to use seven different configurations through their first 9 games. These shuffles have also been due to poor play, especially Royce Newman. It quickly became apparent that he was a liability at right guard, with Elgton Jenkins and Yosh Nijman needing to fill in. The Packers offensive line has fallen in the mid-twenties in the league for run-blocking win rate, per PFF. These O-line issues have led to less play-action in the passing game, with Rodgers needing to get the ball out quick. The Packers are no stranger to shuffling the O-line around, but this season seems to be too much for offensive line coach Luke Butkus.
Defense: Coming into the season, almost everyone had the Packers defense as a top 10, or even top 5 defense in the league. While they haven’t been terrible, they certainly haven’t lived up to the hype from before the season started. One bright spot in the defense has been against the pass. They currently rank fourth in the NFL, allowing an average of just 170 passing yards per game. Jaire Alexander has been phenomenal this season, locking down every receiver he’s covered. He already has accumulated a career high 3 interceptions on the season. The Packers’ defense has allowed 4.8 yards per rush this season, which ranks 24th in the NFL. This is nothing new to Packers fans, who have seen their run-defense be below average almost every year Aaron Rodgers has been a starter. The Packers have a negative 5 turnover differential in the league as well, which is tied for the 3rd lowest. Some of that can be attributed to the offense’s turnover problems, but some can also be blamed on the defense simply not taking the ball away enough. They again rank third to last in takeaways with 8. Rashan Gary had been another bright spot on defense, recording 6 sacks before tearing his ACL against Detroit. In terms of safety play, Darnell Savage has taken a huge step back from previous years, in his coverage, as well as tackling. Through the first 8 weeks, Savage had the worst grade out of any starting safety according to PFF.
Special Teams: The signing of new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia seemed promising over the offseason. He was meant to come in and completely change the culture surrounding the undisciplined group. The Packers’ special teams has been hilariously bad the past few years, and this year somehow doesn’t seem very different. The Packers land themselves second to last this year so far in total special teams. First off, Amari Rodgers has been just as terrible returning punts as last season. There was a point earlier in the season where Rodgers had the same number of fumbles as he did career receptions. New punter Pat O’Donnell has been pressured at the highest rate ever recorded at 23.5 percent of the time. Only 30 percent of Mason Crosby’s kick offs have gone for touchbacks, which is the worst in the league. A couple of surprise players however have been Rudy Ford (signed this offseason from the Jaguars) and Keisean Nixon. They’ve contributed through a blocked punt as well as excellent punt coverage.
Coaching/Play Calling: Just a bit ago, Matt Lafleur set the record for most wins as a head coach in his first 3 seasons with 39. Now, some fans are calling for him to be fired. While I think it’s obviously extreme to fire such a successful coach after just a small bad stretch of games, it does make me wonder how much was Lafleur and how much was Rodgers and Davante Adams. So far, the play calling has been very questionable, especially in the second half of games. Green Bay has been abandoning the run way too quickly, despite the rushing attack of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon averaging a combined 4.8 yards per carry. Fans and analysts alike have been pushing heavily for Aaron Jones to get more touches. Jones has only carried the ball more than 16 times once this season even though he has averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Some of the lack of running is likely coming from Rodgers audibling out of run calls. There have been instances where Rodgers wants a pass when Lafleur has called a run, which almost always end up as incompletions. They need to get on the same page in order to correctly run the west-coast style offense. The lack of play-action may be because of poor offensive line play, but it almost seems non-existent. Unlike this season, Matt Lafleur used to be a master at scheming receivers open when Davante Adams was injured in past seasons.
Final Thoughts: Many people have labeled the Packers season to be over, and I don’t disagree. Arguments can be made that the NFC is very weak this year, so there is a possibility of sneaking in as the 7 seed. The only issue is the upcoming schedule consisting of several playoff teams such as Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Tennessee. I can’t see Green Bay winning more than one of those games. If the season is over, should the Packers start a rebuild? I say maybe. Rodgers could get traded for the right price, or more likely retire after the season. If he decides to stay, I think we have no choice but to continue to try and win. Some key free agents this offseason will be Adrian Amos, Robert Tonyan, and Elgton Jenkins. The front office will have some big decisions on who to keep. As a Packers fan, I’ve never seen this type of collapse before. Even 2017 and 2018 seem better than this current stretch. I wouldn’t fully rule out a vintage Aaron Rodgers performance to salvage the season, but it seems less and less likely by the week.