Week 6 lessons, post-bye adjustments, and why Jordan Love should bounce back
What the Packers can learn from this weekend's games and what should change coming out of the bye.
The Green Bay Packers spent the week away from the football field, a fortunately timed break given their laundry list of injuries and need for adjustments in the wake of their disappointing loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. But even though the Packers don't have a game to break down, Sunday's NFL action provided some valuable instruction on what not to do.
Today's edition of The Leap focuses on important lessons from the weekend, where the Packers might make alterations coming out of the bye, and where to expect improvement.
Today's edition of The Leap is brought to you by Underdog Fantasy, an industry leader in daily and season-long fantasy contests.
Subscribers of The Leap can join Underdog Fantasy here with our special signup link to double your initial deposit up to $100. It's a great way to play fantasy sports with real fans while also supporting the work we do here.
Thank you for reading and supporting our coverage. You can also support our work by following us on social media:
If you appreciate thoughtful, independent coverage of the Packers and NFL, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Your support allows us to serve this community with the stories and reporting it deserves.
As always, thanks for making The Leap a part of your day.
What's the No. 1 lesson the Packers can learn from Sunday's games?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: Do not handle end-of-half situations like the New York Giants did last night.
For anyone unfamiliar with how that game unfolded, let's briefly recap. With under 15 seconds left in the second quarter, Giants wideout Darius Slayton drew a flag for defensive pass interference in the end zone. That gave New York a new set of downs at the Buffalo Bills' 1-yard line but no timeouts with which to operate. Essentially, the offense had enough time for two plays if handled correctly.
But, of course, the Giants didn't handle the situation correctly. On first-and-goal, quarterback Tyrod Taylor "canned" the play call at the line of scrimmage, switching to a run behind the right guard. That might have made sense under most conditions as the Bills had only three defenders available to cover the B and C gaps. However, with effectively no way of stopping the clock if the play didn't result in a touchdown, this decision essentially traded two plays for one.
That gamble did not pay off for New York.
Realistically, the Packers could find themselves in the same situation. Like New York, they often call two plays in the huddle and allow the quarterback to "can" the first one if the defense shows a particular look. That strategy makes sense in the vast majority of cases but not when the clock represents the real opponent.
When the Packers had Aaron Rodgers under center, this sort of mistake almost certainly wouldn't occur. He fully understood that those sorts of circumstances took a designed run off the table. However, with a young quarterback like Jordan Love, that sort of mental error could realistically happen. Love seems to grasp those aspects of the position well and has thus far avoided anything as ill-advised as the Giants' blunder on Sunday night, but he doesn't have the banked reps of his predecessor to rely upon in those situations.
Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur has to make sure not to put Love in such a position.
What post-bye adjustments do you expect from the Packers?
JBH: During his final press conference before the Packers' bye week, LaFleur suggested that he and the coaching staff might rein in the menu on offense. While Green Bay has shown a handful of formational versatility and embraced concepts that barely saw the light of day during Rodgers' time at the helm -- flea flickers, Y leak, and the triple option just to name a few -- the effectiveness of the offense has dipped over the last three games.
"Trying to reflect on it from a coaching standpoint, it's great we have this big ol' call sheet with all these plays to attack certain looks or whatever it may be, and it really doesn't matter if you can't execute it," LaFleur said. "So I think just from a coaching standpoint, we may have to look at just how much are we putting in on these guys. Because you're right, we do have a lot of young guys. Although we didn't have a ton of mental mistakes, it's just that we did have a few in some critical situations that we can't have."
That doesn't mean trick plays will go out the window completely or the Packers will bid adieu to the pistol, but LaFleur might lean more heavily on certain personnel groups that have proven more reliable this season. With wide receiver Christian Watson apparently over the hump with his hamstring injury and running back Aaron Jones expected to return for Week 6's tilt with the Denver Broncos, more static personnel usage might not have the same negative effect it would have earlier in the season while also reducing the number of moving parts in Green Bay's young offense.
On the other side of the ball, the changes could look more noticeable. Last year, defensive coordinator Joe Barry spent the bye week making enormous schematic adjustments. He massively dialed down the blitz rate from one of the highest rates in the NFL to the lowest. Meanwhile, after spending most of the season in Cover 1 and Cover 3, Barry shifted to heavy use of Cover 2 and Cover 6. Those changes led to a strong final stretch for Green Bay's defense and likely saved Barry's job.
Through the first five games of 2023, Barry has largely reverted to his old habits. The Packers have lived in Cover 3 (48.7% of defensive snaps by NFL Next Gen Stats' accounting) with Cover 1 their next closest coverage (20.1%). While matchups dictate a team's defensive approach to a significant degree, it doesn't seem wise to ignore every lesson Green Bay learned during the final four games of last season. Accordingly, expect Barry to refocus his calls around some other coverages in the coming weeks.
But the defense should also have some changes in terms of personnel. Through the first five games, star pass rusher Rashan Gary hasn't played more than 47% of snaps. The Packers have ramped him up over the course of that time with only Week 4's tilt against the Detroit Lions -- a game played on a short week -- serving as an exception. Now out of the bye and nearly a full year removed from his ACL tear, Gary should play on the majority of defensive snaps going forward.
While not as important as a workload increase for Gary, the return of Eric Stokes should play a pivotal role for the defense as well. The 2021 first-round pick struggled for stretches last season, but he also landed on injured reserve before Barry's aforementioned adjustments.
So far, the Packers have featured Rasul Douglas, Keisean Nixon, and, when healthy, Jaire Alexander at cornerback. Once Stokes comes off the physically unable to perform list, that should change. While Alexander and Douglas will continue to play most of the corner snaps, it seems imperative to get Stokes on the field. His size and speed create matchup advantages for the defense while allowing either Alexander or Douglas to shift inside, limiting Nixon's exposure.
What position do you expect to show the biggest post-bye improvement?
JBH: I anticipate the Packers getting better play out of the quarterback position, though that speaks to Love's performance in the few weeks directly before the bye as well as the upcoming slate of games.
Love opened the season with two strong games by expected points added per play, but the nature of his underlying numbers suggested that he would either have to significantly improve his accuracy or see his productivity nosedive. Following Week 2, Acme Packing Company's Paul Noonan wrote a comprehensive piece that outlined the disconnect between Love's metrics. The next three games saw the quarterback run into some of the issues detailed in that story.
Whether Love can implement what he learned from his last three games remains entirely unclear. However, he should have his full complement of weapons for the first time in 2023 and, based on LaFleur's statements, a more unified, simpler game plan to run. The Packers should also have a much healthier offensive line now that left guard Elgton Jenkins, right guard Jon Runyan Jr., and right tackle Zach Tom have had a full week to rest their respective injuries.
As for the schedule, the Packers draw the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, and Los Angeles Rams coming out of the bye. The Broncos feature the worst defense ever measured by DVOA through the opening five games while the Vikings and Rams ranked in the bottom half of the league entering Week 6. Love's struggles in his last three games came against the New Orleans Saints (10th through five weeks), Lions (third), and Raiders (28th), a considerably harder run of defenses than he will face over the next three weeks.
Those ingredients suggest better quarterback play for Green Bay whether or not Love comes out of the bye a better quarterback.
The Leap is a reader-supported publication covering the Green Bay Packers and NFL with insights and reporting available nowhere else. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.