5 Things to Watch in Packers vs Patriots: Unleash the Deep Ball

Five things to watch as the Packers host Bill Belichick's Patriots.

The football gods have dropped a gift into the laps of the Green Bay Packers, who take on the injury-stricken New England Patriots on Sunday. With Mac Jones sidelined for the Week 4 showdown, 36-year-old Brian Hoyer, somehow still in the league, will be under center for the Patriots.

Unless you believe in the mythical ‘trap game’, all signs point to a Packers win. Here are five things to watch as Green Bay looks for its third straight victory.

Packers run defense vs Harris & Stevenson

If the Patriots have any blueprint for hanging with the Packers, it will be reliant on running the ball successfully and shortening the game.

New England has two talented running backs in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, and both backs should get a robust workload on Sunday.

Green Bay shut down Leonard Fournette a week ago, but struggled to contain David Montgomery in the home opener. If the Packers commit to stopping the run and execute effectively, New England’s chances of producing an upset will shrink to almost nil.

Unleash the deep ball

Aaron Rodgers’ depth of target has dropped significantly in 2022, as the Packers’ passing game has become more centered around short passes and yards after the catch. In fact, Green Bay leads the NFL in YAC.

While quick passes worked in the first half against the Buccaneers, whom Rodgers carved up when they opted for a blitz-heavy strategy, Todd Bowles’ team later adjusted and simply sat on the shorter routes, daring the Packers to throw the ball deep.

The absence of Christian Watson made that a difficult task in Tampa, but with the rookie receiver back in the lineup this week, and Romeo Doubs showing the ability to get the better of corners on the outside, it may be time for the Packers to start taking more shots down field.

Rasul Douglas’s role

‘Sul has looked somewhat uncomfortable in his new role in the slot, and when Jaire Alexander’s injury pushed Douglas back to the outside, his play noticeably improved. Frankly, Douglas isn’t built like a slot corner, where quick twitch and fluidity in space are more important.

If the Packers decide to hold Alexander out this week, Keisean Nixon has shown himself to be more than capable of starting as a slot corner, which would allow Douglas to work on the boundary.

Even if Alexander is good to go, it would be nice to at least see more instances where Douglas plays outside while Ja moves into the slot.

Will Devonte Wyatt’s snaps increase?

Wyatt has gotten off to a slow start, which was somewhat concerning for a 24-year-old rookie who was expected to make an instant impact. However, the defensive lineman flashed during his limited snaps versus the Buccaneers last week.

Green Bay’s defensive line is stacked, meaning there has been little need to rely on Wyatt early in his NFL career, but the explosive athleticism he possesses is rare for his position and on obvious passing downs, unleashing the former Georgia standout could yield dividends for the Packers.

Do the Packers have the killer instinct?

In each of their last two wins, Green Bay allowed their opponent to hang around longer than they should have.

Of course, you have to give some credit to the opponents who refused to go away, but Matt LaFleur would probably like to see his team earn a comfortable win. They should get that opportunity on Sunday.

If the Packers get up multiple scores on Sunday, they must keep their foot on the gas and avoid giving the Patriots any hope of a comeback.

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Mark Oldacres is a sports writer from Birmingham, England and a Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow him on twitter at @Marko7LW

4 points

Comments (32)

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splitpea1's picture

October 01, 2022 at 04:07 pm

Regarding Wyatt, I'm tempted to say he's the DL version of Gary in 2019, but even Gary got more opportunities early in his rookie season.

But Wyatt didn't look bad at all in his six meaningful snaps Vs. the Bucs; he showed a quick spin move on one occasion, and on another he was on his way to shedding the center and forced a hurried incompletion from Brady.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of him--that athleticism will soon translate into sacks and TFLs with more experience.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 08:48 am

We’ve forgotten that most rookies take time. I was mildly encouraged by Wyatt’s last showing, but he’s got the upside, it’s a question of adding some additional tools by the look of it, and some defensive technique. I’m sure a year in the weight room will help. These are often hurdles for players that can dominate fairly consistently on talent alone in college. From what I’ve read, he seems pretty diligent and into football.

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relleum61's picture

October 01, 2022 at 04:56 pm

...all of the above, plus just don't "fumble the dagger" when the chance to put the Pats away presents itself!

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Swisch's picture

October 01, 2022 at 05:55 pm

Agreed relleum, although I'll give Aaron Jones a lot of slack in his fumble for not only taking an initial hit, but then immediately running into Mount Vita Vea.
There has to be an emphasis on taking care of the ball, but sometimes the defense pretty much takes the ball away.
If the Packers minimize the turnovers, they should be able to overcome them.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 08:51 am

I don’t think Rodgers saw Vita heading directly towards Cobb. I think he was tracking the LB from the outside that Jones lost and threw as soon as he did. That’s not one you thank your QB for. It’s one your QB probably wishes he pulled down. Rodgers seemed to concede as much after.

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SanLobo's picture

October 02, 2022 at 02:00 pm

I agree, as does Rodgers, that it was not a great pass. But he doesn’t look back thinking he should have pulled it down. Rodgers said he still would have thrown it to Jones, but wishes he had made a better pass. To the inside vice his back shoulder, which would have let Jones would have turned directly into the end zone.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 03:02 pm

He said he wouldn’t have released it then. That’s what I was referencing.

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Swisch's picture

October 01, 2022 at 05:41 pm

Coldworld has been compelling in saying we need some long passes to open up the shorter passes, as well as the run.
Thinking about it, while it seems quite true that we need to show some balance vertically, it seems good to remember that a problem of recent Packers seasons has been Rodgers forcing the long passes into tight coverage when the easier short passes to open receivers were available.
It seems a chorus of fans has been urging Rodgers, especially on third down, to take the short passes when available, and move the chains.
***
So, for the takeaway:
The long ball is a good thing, probably a necessary thing in most games to keep the defenses honest (although it's good to not only work the field vertically, but horizontally, from sideline to sideline).
If the long ball is open, take it, and keep taking it for large chunks of yardage, until they stop it.
However, the Packers can still prioritize the short game as generally the most reliable way to win football games -- with ball control.
***
It can be a difficult balance between the short game and the long game, requiring adjustments through all four quarters of a contest.
What seems to be a big question here at CHTV is whether the tandem of LaFleur/Rodgers are able and willing to make those adjustments.
With a lot of flux on the offensive line and at wide receiver, plus the season being so young, I'm willing to show some patience; but let's hope we see continual progress from game to game as far as creativity in play calling, as well as adaptability to outwit changing defenses.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 09:01 am

I’m not arguing for Air Coryell! My gist is that the long shot has to be part of our game and our O needs to at least attempt medium and deep throws. If you like we need to capitalize on the run and even use the pass at times to set up the run by preventing Ds sitting in the short zone. That would also help out OL.

At the simplest level, If teams play 2 deep safeties truly deep, then hold them there with go routes combined with meshes or crossers in front of them, it they sit in the medium zone as the Bucs were, then go deep with Watson, Doubs or Toure. Get behind them and it’s a score of some sort most likely if the catch is made. Even if it is not completed, those safeties are changing their approach and others will start to pull back to fill the gaps. If they don’t, we likely make some big plays.

MVS didn’t have to be great to help Lazard and Adams, he just needed Ds to play to his threat and, when they didn’t, he usually made a big play or two. He seldom won the game for us, but helped set up others to. We have the tools, more in fact, to do that, yet we have by far the least yards per target in the league. That’s not tenable nor defensible and it makes it tougher to protect Rodgers and to run than it needs to be.

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wildbill's picture

October 02, 2022 at 10:14 am

Great points, I would like to add that MVS was a very willing, and somewhat effective, blocker. Would have loved to keep him but not at the money he got from the Chiefs

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Swisch's picture

October 02, 2022 at 01:57 pm

I may not have expressed myself as well as possible, Coldworld, but I was basically agreeing with you all along.
It's just that I remembered a key reason why we've been so concerned to establish the short game over the past couple of seasons or more: Rodgers forcing difficult long passes when easier short passes were open.
This season, as you've noted, it seems the Packers have gone away from the long ball too much, and even the threat of the long ball.
So, I think we're in basic agreement, perhaps complete agreement.
It'll be fun to see what the Packers offense comes up with today as far as advancing the ball literally and figuratively.

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SanLobo's picture

October 02, 2022 at 02:15 pm

My take is neither Rodgers nor LaFleur had confidence in the O-line to allow for deep shots. After the Tampa game and their review of the film, they have to have gained more confidence. I’ve heard Rodgers say he thinks a deep ball at least once a quarter keeps the defense honest. I think we will see more willingness to go that route against NE.

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murf7777's picture

October 02, 2022 at 09:38 am

Swisch, I think you attempt to take what the defense gives you. If they are playing deep zone then you take the short plays and vice versa. Rodgers is a master at doing this and why he takes time at the LOS. Some don’t like it and I certainly don’t like it when he waste timeouts, but over his career that is one of the reasons he’s a HOF’er. Belichick is a master of disguise and probably is the toughest Defense to read pre-snap. This will be an interesting chess match between Rodgers and Belichick. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter who the D-coordinator is on NE’s team, Belichick runs the defense.

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Swisch's picture

October 02, 2022 at 02:04 pm

I'm glad for your comment, murf, and I hope you're right that Rodgers is a master of play calling at the line of scrimmage. I'm not so sure.
In any case, while Rodgers may be a valuable contributor to the play calling, I hope (to put a twist on your last sentence) that it's not true to say: Let's face it, it doesn't matter who the O-coordinator (or head coach) is on GB's team, Rodgers runs the offense.

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canadapacker's picture

October 01, 2022 at 06:31 pm

These next 4 games are winnable - Pats are hurting and we are at home - Giants in London and then the Jets and Washington. That being said - each and every game will be a test. This game is in good weather and with more people back - ie Oline and receivers - it is time to unleash the hounds and start getting the rooks - Doubs and Watson into the deep threat - and just where in the H is the lateral movement - jet sweeps and fakes off of it? Lafleur needs to open up the playbook in this game so that he can do that again in London. IMO

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 01, 2022 at 09:31 pm

Pats have a good OL. Oh yeah, and some talented RBs. Owenhu is massive at RG (listed at 350 pounds). The weak link might the the rookie LG, Strange, though he was the 29th pick in the first round. Couple of good TEs. WRs are okay. What's Hoyer got? They've had some trouble scoring against good defenses, though they put up 26 against the suspect Ravens defense.

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LLCHESTY's picture

October 02, 2022 at 12:47 am

I'd like to see more 30+ yard attempts but they are actually getting plenty of explosive plays on YAC catches. They have 12 on the season and the 4 teams ahead of them have 13 so they're not hurting in that sense. I just don't think you can count on big YAC catches week in and week out. It's not the number of deep shots I have a problem with but the depth of them and who is getting those targets.

They also had no shots between 15 and 20 yards last week. I'd like to see a 18 yard deep out or two thrown at Doubs, who had a few of those in college.

https://twitter.com/Marcus_Mosher/status/1574780742164430848?t=u4zob5VyR...

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 08:17 am

A good post. Of course, we are relying on YAC because we aren’t throwing beyond ten yards. It’s a testament to what a couple of guys, mostly Doubs but some Watson and Cobb can do.

The frustrating thing about that is that Watson and Doubs could be expected to do just as much for more if out of the thicket of defenders near the line typically thus far.

We don’t need to be doing it every play either, but we should run more plays with at least one going deep and sometimes more. That in itself has an effect, especially once one occasionally targets them. That opens spaces between the levels of defenses.

We need to accept that Cobb is a few downs a game player and Lazard won’t break games alone. We need to accept that it’s the rookies or long periods ineffectiveness and decreasing returns in the run game. It’s #%#^* ridiculous that we have Rodgers throwing an average target more than a yard shorter than any other QB in this league.

It’s time for LaFleur to man up and be assertive on O. If we are going to run, that’s a good thing, but we need to pass to set up the run just as much as the other way around. And dink snd dunk at the exacerbatedly short distances we’ve seen is essentially just a run by another name from a defensive perspective.

We need to use our rookies and use them to their strengths. That may not be consistency, there will be mistakes, so simpler routes and maximize:
(1) the chances of doing damage if they do get the ball,
(2) maximize the potential scale of that damage,
(3) the impact on the defensive strategy from the play, and
(4) the uncertainty as to which player that will come from.

Lazard and Cobb shouldn’t be major parts of that strategy, rather they should benefit from its effect by working In The spaces opened between the levels. This works if your catcher can get behind or get open and do so quickly and if that player can beat anything you have thereafter. It also works best when it can come from multiple locations. Even better when one of those at least isn’t actually going to run such a route.

We need to play Toure, be prepared to run any of the rookies deep and do so. That will really help not only Lazard, but Jones and Dillon and, critically, the O line, which has been increasingly sat on.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not my Invention, it’s just how football has worked. Heck, even in Rugby, with no forward pass it’s seen as bloody obvious that you keep your opponent guessing.

LaFleur has to start this with his personnel, actives and in gsme groupings, and calls. Rodgers then has the openly visible opportunity to make plays. If he doesn’t, then he can take blame rightly, but at this point it’s on LaFleur entirely. Cant throw where you aren’t sending players.

LaFleur wanted Rodgers back, well now bloody use him or go home as another average also ran at the end of the year. So far LaFleur has done about everything wrong, again. This is really a cluelessly led team thus far. Prove me wrong. If this is a struggle on O against a weaker team for the same reasons as last week, then maybe more will see through the faux flower.

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murf7777's picture

October 02, 2022 at 09:48 am

“We need to play Toure, be prepared to run any of the rookies deep and do so.“.

The last thing Rodgers needs is three rookies playing WR, especially a 7th rounder. There’s a reason he’s a 7th rounder and will probably be prone to more mistakes. They have enough vertical threat with Doubs and Watson. Unless there are more injuries to the WR group, you won’t see Toure getting much if any playing time.

What’s most important for longer passes is the OL giving Rodgers time for the routes to develop. With Bak and Jenkins back I’m confident that time will continue to increase for Rodgers. Will it be this game with Watson coming back, maybe, but I suspect it will over these next 4 games.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 10:24 am

What Rodgers needs is talent and speed. What he does with it is up to him. Winfree isn’t going to cut it. Watson is not yet an every down guy and at times we need someone else able to play the slot with speed or potentially provide that next to Doubs.

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murf7777's picture

October 02, 2022 at 11:16 am

We will see who the Packers coaching staff agree with. Unless more injuries, I doubt you will see much from Toure.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 12:00 pm

If I thought Winfree was the right choice last week, I’d say that. If I thought the offensive line overhaul in the last championship game made any sense, I’d say that too. I might say the same about the Hanson as the breakout player rubbish.

Then again. Since I’ve just criticized their timidity, it could be that, like Drayton, I think that they are wrong and continuing to be and that they are again frittering away both our chance to improve weapons during the season and to get the best out of what we have.

Cobb and Lazard aren’t going to win us a Super Bowl in isolation. It’s a long shot with Doubs and Watson, but it’s the best one we have and it’s only helped if we bring Toure on. Take your chances: settling for mediocrity and hoping for a miracle later is not an acceptable option this year. It’s just another Drayton head-in-the-
sand refusal to face roster reality.

A 50 plus million QB throwing a yard shorter on average than ANY other QB should have you worried. Since it doesn’t, playing these receivers in that mix probably won’t. It does me. Then again, I have gradually come to the view that LaFleur is a completely empty vessel as a HC. Keep trusting and we will see how far it gets us into the New Year.

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murf7777's picture

October 02, 2022 at 05:18 pm

Lazards isn’t mediocrity. Mlf is an empty vessel, wow only the winneat coach for his first 50 games in the history of the NFL. You should get off the sauce.

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murf7777's picture

October 02, 2022 at 06:51 pm

Well, basically Cobb and Lazards made so many clutch plays and won the game for us!

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marpag1's picture

October 02, 2022 at 04:49 am

eh.... I dunno.

Aaron Rodgers heaves a few deep incompletions and people start bitching about hero ball and "gotta take what the defense gives ya."

Or if Aaron Rodgers goes deep only infrequently, then people complain, "Where is the deep ball?"

How you play offense isn't always as easy or simple as what you want to do. I do NOT think that Tampa was "daring the Packers to throw the ball deep." Tampa and other previous opponents were playing two-deep safety coverages darn near every snap. You're just not going to see a lot of deep balls when that happens.

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PatrickGB's picture

October 02, 2022 at 08:35 am

You said it! It’s too easy to over analyze our offense. I say that you take what the defense gives you and you fit you offense to your own skills and plans.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 09:07 am

But that’s the point, we are not taking what defenses are giving us. We are in fact doing the same thing regardless of what they do largely: the exact opposite.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 08:37 am

If you can’t scheme plays over 10 yards with 2 deep safeties and everyone else within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, then you are not going to succeed as a coach.

One basic strategy is to run a 20 yard deep crossing route or a mesh and send one or 2 deep to drag the safeties. Do that a few times and that field changes. Rocket science it’s not.

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marpag1's picture

October 02, 2022 at 09:36 am

"If you can’t scheme plays over 10 yards with 2 deep safeties and everyone else within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, then you are not going to succeed as a coach."

Matt LaFleur is 43-14 overall as an NFL head coach. In three years his teams have never failed to win the division, never failed to make the playoffs, never went out before the divisional round and made the NFC championship game twice.

He's the one we're talking about, right?

Seems like he's managing in tolerable fashion, the nay-sayers notwithstanding.

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Coldworld's picture

October 02, 2022 at 10:29 am

Yes, LaFleur has beaten those teams. A long list where we came away knowing his acumen tilted the field. Or could it be Rodgers and a good Roster playing the Rodgers way. Dream
In. Keep dreaming that’s going to work with this roster to any worthwhile extent.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 02, 2022 at 03:10 pm

I will side with the Rodgers point of view.

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egbertsouse's picture

October 02, 2022 at 07:15 am

Please don’t encourage Diva to play hero ball. We don’t need any 50 yard throws on 3rd and 1 or a 15 yard sack as he runs around in the backfield waiting for Cobb to get open on a deep route.

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