No Caveats, No Excuses: The Packers are bad
Sunday's loss to the Jets requires no additional context to understand. Until further notice, the Packers are a bad football team.
The Green Bay Packers celebrated Halloween early, delivering a horror show of critical mistakes and dysfunction in all three phases during a 27-10 loss to the New York Jets. The outcome -- the latest disappointing showing for a Packers squad that hasn't put together anything approximating a complete game so far this season -- seems right in step for this floundering squad. Until further notice, the Packers are a bad football team.
Today's edition of The Leap examines how the Packers fell off so quickly and what hope, if any, remains for them in 2022.
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The Packers made myriad mistakes against the Jets. Which one was your favorite?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Regular readers of The Leap know how I feel about the current configuration of the Packers' offensive line. Royce Newman, the second-year pro apparently tied to a starting job via blood oath, continues to short-circuit the offense and create more problems than he fixes.
Sunday's game played host to Newman's worst outing of the season. While he handles himself well enough when he knows who to block, he too frequently loses track of his assignment. That issues surfaced frequently against the Jets, who stunted Newman into submission.
Before the end of the first half, Green Bay's coaching staff had seen enough, benching Newman for Jake Hanson. Directly following the change, the Packers went on their first successful scoring drive of the game. However, a biceps injury ended Hanson's day soon thereafter, resulting in Newman returning to right guard. The results speak for themselves.
Newman's damage could have looked even worse if not for teammates bailing him out. Prior to the benching, he nearly gave up a critical third-down sack during the first half that would have pinned the Packers inside their 20-yard line. Instead, Aaron Rodgers pirouetted out of the would-be tackler and completed a pass down the field to Allen Lazard.
When the team had neither David Bakhtiari nor Elgton Jenkins available, Matt LaFleur and the coaching staff could defend Royce Newman working with the starters. Green Bay might even have a case for continuing to play Newman once Jenkins made his return in Week 2. But even there, promising rookie Zach Tom -- whom LaFleur said would garner consideration as a starter heading into Week 2 -- provided a viable alternative.
Fast forward to Sunday, and any argument to keep Newman in the lineup has dissipated. Bakhtiari completed his first full game since his ACL tear and Jenkins has played his best football along the interior. With Yosh Nijman, a starting-caliber offensive tackle, just standing on the sidelines, the time has come for the Packers to make a change. Nijman needs to move to right tackle with Jenkins taking over for Newman at right guard.
The insanity has to end.
PB: The special teams are fixed! Except they’re not.
It’s remarkable that in a game in which the Packers blocked a kick themselves, the special teams are an enormous net negative for them. Just like in the NFC Divisional Round last season, a blocked field goal cost them 3 points, and a blocked punt cost them 7.
In a game that finished 27-10, that’s the difference between putting in Jordan Love during the final minutes, and having the chance to go tie or take the lead with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. This team can’t block. On offense, on special teams, it doesn’t seem to matter. They’ve invested incredible resources into solidifying the offensive line and special teams and neither is solidified right now.
Jason expertly laid out the problems with the offensive line, something we’ve been pounding the table about over here at The Leap. Until it gets fixed, this team is going nowhere fast.
What's going on with De'Vondre Campbell?
JBH: Teams accept some risk when they pay veteran players after a single year of production. Prior to 2021, De'Vondre Campbell had served as a regular starter but his previous employers never seemed too keen on keeping him around. The Atlanta Falcons let him walk following the expiration of his rookie contract and the Arizona Cardinals moved on after a single season.
That background doesn't undercut Campbell's All-Pro campaign from a year ago, but it does provide context as to whether he can replicate it. So far, the resounding answer is no.
But how much of that derives from Campbell individually versus the situation in which the coaches have placed him? Certainly, the missed tackles -- and he had multiple against the Jets -- fall on his shoulders. However, Campbell also seems burdened by having to play next to rookie linebacker Quay Walker who still struggles to read plays and will occasionally run himself out of position.
While Campbell wouldn't have made those particular plays, such moments explain his reduced willingness to click and close on ball carriers relative to last season.
Given the investment made in Walker, he will continue to see the field regularly (79% of the Packers' defensive snaps heading into Week 6). However, reducing Walker's workload in favor of a more assignment-sound veteran could make a difference. Rudy Ford acquitted himself well when filling in for Adrian Amos against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Perhaps playing Ford at safety with Amos moving closer to the line of scrimmage would help.
PB: It will go mostly unnoticed elsewhere, but the Packers started to try to account for these issues by going to more Big Dime looks against the Jets. Rudy Ford played the deep safety, leaving Darnell Savage or Adrian Amos to play more in the box, much closer to how this team played last year when Campbell was an All-Pro.
In a way, it’s an admission that the plan to play more nickel thanks to a twitchy, hyper-athlete linebacker being able to stay on the field on passing downs hasn’t worked so far. Ironically, the biggest reason is Quay Walker needs a map fitting the run. If the linebacker who is on the field specifically to help stop the run isn’t stopping the run, then it’s time to find other ways to defend the pass better while giving up the run … which they were doing anyway.
Playing big to help against the run only works if it’s actually helping against the run and so far, it’s not. If playing small is the only way this team can successfully defend the pass on earlier downs, then that’s the way they’ll have to play more often moving forward.
Ford has flashed so far, but Walker’s struggles throw into sharper focus the failings of Brian Gutekunst to address the safety position in the offseason. It’s gobsmacking they could have watched players like Will Redmond flail across this defense over the last few years at that S3 spot and not believed more resources needed to be allocated to that spot.
How much hope, if any, do the Packers have of turning their season around?
JBH: There's no point in sugarcoating: The Packers have to thread a needle just to qualify for the playoffs. After next week's matchup with the putrid Washington Commanders -- and no one should count any matchup as an assumed win at this point -- the schedule features three of the NFL's best teams over a five-week span. Even with improved play on both sides of the ball, Green Bay would have a hard time winning any of them.
From now until the Week 14 bye, the oddsmakers will likely favor the Packers to win in three games (at the Commanders, at the Detroit Lions, and at the Chicago Bears) and favor them to lose in three others (at the Buffalo Bills, home against the Dallas Cowboys, and at the Philadelphia Eagles). A third, a Thursday night tilt with the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau Field, could go either way at this stage, though it's trending toward the visiting team. Green Bay would have to handle its business in the three "easier" tilts and steal a game elsewhere just to avoid a losing record entering the final stretch.
Given that the Minnesota Vikings currently own a 5-1 record and a head-to-head win over the Packers, the question becomes whether a team would need double-digit wins to secure a wild-card berth in the NFC. With so many of the conference's best records concentrated in the NFC East, Green Bay has a little wiggle room there, but not much. Getting to nine or 10 wins seems quite difficult without a major reversal of fortune.
But all of that underscores the degree to which the Packers have disappointed this season. They entered as Super Bowl favorites, and nobody puts them in that group at the moment.
PB: The hope for this team lies in the talent. There’s too much talent on the team to not play better eventually. This defense is theoretically more talented than last year. It cannot continue to be this bad. And Davante Adams didn’t mean this much to the offense. But the blocking is worse with better personnel. Aaron Rodgers is playing the worst football of his career. A.J. Dillon has regressed, and now Randall Cobb is hurt.
There’s also this problem: Matt LaFleur’s best friend, the best man at his wedding, all but said he knew the Packers would quit if the Jets just kept coming at them.
He questioned Green Bay’s heart. He questioned their resolve and desire. If they can’t get fired up over this, this team is lost. And given the way they’ve responded to being punched in the mouth in the Matt LaFleur era, it’s hard to have faith that’s going to happen.
JBH: For everything that went wrong for the Packers on Sunday, Kingsley Enagbare flashed some play-making ability. Early in the second quarter, the rookie pass rusher dispatched veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah with his hands before closing on Jets quarterback Zach Wilson for his first career sack.
The Packers need another capable pass rusher to reduce the burden on Rashan Gary, who entered the weekend questionable to play with a toe injury, and Preston Smith. Jonathan Garvin has shown limited upside during his two years and change in Green Bay while Tipa Galeai just landed on injured reserve with a hamstring issue. That leaves little margin for error.
Enagbare doesn't have to tilt the field as a rookie, nor should anyone expect him to do so. However, if he can deliver moments that one on occasion, the Packers' pass rush doesn't seem nearly as fragile as it currently does on paper.
PB: If we are looking for bright spots, how about Jaire Alexander in the slot?! Joe Barry hinted the Packers would be trying this out and it paid off. In fact, the passing defense played stellar football with the exception of the one big play to Corey Davis on the play-action double move.
Rookie standout Garrett Wilson caught just one pass for eight yards in five targets, playing mostly in the slot and facing Alexander. Zach Wilson managed a scant 110 total passing yards in this game at 6.1 yards per attempt. This passing defense has been mostly good all season, but the run defense has somehow only gotten worse.
The front isn’t getting off blocks or creating penetrating. Physical edges aren’t being set. And alley plays aren’t filling with purpose to get downhill to ball carriers. It would be fine if the Packers’ special-teams units didn’t weekly cost them a score and the offense was playing like it did in 2020 and 2021. Most teams couldn’t stick with the run trying to match points with MVP Rodgers. But that’s not the guy under center right now. That’s not the offense the Packers are playing with.
Something has to change because the secondary played as advertised on Sunday. The rest of the team didn’t.