Packers Bye Week: Saturday Scoop

The Green Bay Packers are probably taking a collective nap right about  now and this team needs its rest.  The bye week is here.  As fans, we dread this week that's void of watching the Packers and all of the drama that comes with it that makes it hard to fall asleep on Sunday nights.  The players, however, have had this week circled on their calendars since the schedule came out.  It's a chance for them to get away from football for a week, go home and visit family or do whatever they haven't been able to do since late July.  Whatever it is that these players are doing, hopefully it helps them refocus and come back ready for the rest of this season.

A 6-0 record heading into the bye is obviously the best-case scenario that the Packers could have hoped for.  When the schedule came out, I would have been happy with a 2-1 mark after three games and go from there.  At this point, this team has proven they're top contenders and opponents will need their best day to beat them.  As is always the case, however, there are plenty of narratives out there about some of the things this Packers team needs to do in order to finish strong and make a push towards San Francisco in early February, where some big-time game that decides this season's championship is being played (I am starting to not want to refer to the game by name, so at least for now, I won't).

Since there is no game to break down this week, I thought I'd address some of the above-mentioned narratives.  I'll also pick my team most valuable player, rookie of the year, and the player that needs to step it up if the Packers are going to accomplish their lofty goals.  So let's dive in!

Injuries Are A Problem

Here we go again.  After a 2014 season where the Packers suffered fewer-than-usual injuries, the injury bug appears to be back in 2015.  Jordy Nelson, Sam Barrington, Andrew Quarless, Morgan Burnett, Davante Adams, Bryan Bulaga, Josh Boyd, Sean Richardson, Nick Perry, and B.J. Raji have all missed time this season.  Running back Eddie Lacy and receiver Randall Cobb are playing through their own injuries.  More on Lacy to come.

The Packers are no strangers to the "next man up" mentality, but what gives with injuries hitting this team more than many others and seemingly every year?  ESPN.com recently published a piece ranking the NFL's most banged up teams.  Not surprisingly, the Packers grabbed the top spot with 78 total starts missed.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that the Packers are still winning while not at full strength and many of those listed above should return at some point this season.  After the bye week, there is a realistic chance that Adams, Raji, and Burnett will return.  Bulaga is already back and Perry is said to be on the upside of his recovery from a shoulder injury and may miss an additional week or two after the off week.  Quarless is on the injured reserve - designated to return and should rejoin the team after Thanksgiving.

That is right now, at this moment.  There are still another 10 games to get through before the postseason starts.  At the current pace, the Packers are likely to have to deal with a few more losses.  That means those behind the key contributors on the depth chart will be called on to step in.  So far, the Packers have seen solid play from backups such as Quinten Rollins, Jayrone Elliott, Jeff Janis, and Josh Walker, to name a few.  Packers general manager Ted Thompson's drat and develop philosophy tends to get picked apart when it comes to having to count on young players to step in and contribute immediately in a pinch.  In theory, that's a realistic gripe, but the Packers seem to squeeze more out of their rookies than most other teams can.  Rollins and linebacker Jake Ryan are examples.  Rollins was the defensive MVP in the win against the St. Louis Rams and Ryan has been a valuable special teams contributor along with depth on defense thus far.  

Depth is the key to winning in today's NFL and we all know what the 2010 Packers went through on their way to a Super Bowl title.  15 players ended up on season-ending injured reserve.  Only a handful of those players were key contributors, however and so before we make too many parallels to that team with this team's injuries, we need to remember that.  This year's team appears to have the kind of depth that can keep the team afloat while injured players heal.  They key is keeping the injuries to a minimum from this point forth.  Unfortunately, the Packers aren't in total control of that factor so a little luck will be needed.

One final note in this area is that the early discussions seem to be that Nelson is ahead of schedule in his recovery from his torn ACL.  That doesn't help the Packers this year, but it could mean that Nelson is ready to go when the team opens training camp in 2016.

The Offense Is Struggling

Much of this narrative surrounds how Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks based on the eyeball test.  The bar for Rodgers has been set so high that even a slight dip below extraordinary is enough to concern some.  The Packers put up 17 points against the San Francisco 49ers, 24 against the Rams the following week and 27 against the San Diego Chargers last week.  It seems that if the Packers aren't putting up 30 or more every week, the offense is sputtering.  

One of the common whipping boys as to why the Packers aren't churning out points at will is the lack of a deep ball.  With a healthy Nelson in past seasons, the Packers commonly had a long pass or two each game.  Those opportunities are just not there this season.  Cobb, Ty Montgomery and James Jones aren't deep threats.  Adams has been hurt and, according to Rodgers, is the team's best option to get behind a defense and score an explosive play.  And then there's Jeff Janis.  Janis has run a few nine routes this season and were it not for a mistaken path last week against the Chargers, he would still not have hauled in a deep pass this year.  Janis has the speed, but between his understanding of the offense and the trust he has from Rodgers, he hasn't been able to do what the Packers and, really the fans, want to see.  Adams should be back soon and with Janis having caught a few passes in recent week, the deep ball is going to be there.  Just be patient.  

In looking at offensive rankings, the Packers are 10th in overall yards per game.  They're 20th in passing yards per game but are fifth in rushing yards per game with just over 127.  I mentioned Lacy earlier and consider that the Packers are getting their yards on the ground without his being fully healthy.  There seems to be all of this mystery surrounding Lacy and why the Packers aren't using him as much and why he's been so quiet since hurting his ankle in week two.  To me, it's pretty simple.  Besides the sore ankle, which Lacy has been able to play through, he's a big back who this team is going to need later in the season.  He runs hard and takes a pounding, by nature.  It's still for the Packers to withhold Lacy in order to simply save him for later on, but the ankle injury has been a built in reason why the Packers can limit his touches.  Further evidence of why Green Bay can't just throw Lacy into a game in a critical situation was his fumble against the Chargers last week.  He hadn't touched the ball in nearly two quarters when his number was called and he came in and put the ball on the ground.  Lacy doesn't fumble often so that was a glaring moment in his season thus far.  In relief, James Starks appears to be up to the task of carrying the bulk of the load until Lacy is closer to 100%.  The questions about Lacy's conditioning seem nothing more than convenient to me.  He's a three-year veteran who has been good in each of his two seasons and understands what he needs to do in order to play well on Sunday's.  A sudden lack of discipline would surprise me.

Opposing defenses have problems on top of problems stopping Rodgers and have turned to their offenses for some help.  The Packers are averaging just under 30 minutes per game with the ball this season.  They had it for just 22 minutes against the Chargers and at home this year, are averaging just 28:46 per game.  With the crowd on their side, the Packers would seemingly be able to dominate the time of possession but are not.  With Adams out and Lacy struggling at times, the Packers offense has struggled to keep drives moving.  We'll see if this stat turns around once the offense returns to full strength.

It sounds cliche, but the Packers need only score one more point than their opponent to log a victory.  Rodgers isn't having a MVP season and isn't even in the conversation.  Still, it's hard to argue with the output when the team is still undefeated after six weeks.

The Packers Can Win Ugly Games

This is more about the Packers having found ways to win games in many different ways.  Much of this is thanks to a defense that is allowing just under 17 points per game.  Yes, they got a push for that stat with a three point output by the 49ers, but they're keeping teams out of the end zone.  The Chargers passed for over 500 yards last week and were only able to put up 20 points.  San Diego had a few drops that might have otherwise led to additional points, but as it stands, the Packers are getting it done when the opposition has the ball.

That game against the Chargers came down to the wire and they had to keep up with a very physical Rams defense and overcome three turnovers to win that game.  They held Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and Carlos Hyde in check when they had struggled against top backs in recent years past.  In the games where they were gashed by the run game (Chicago and St. Louis), they overcame it to make enough plays to win.  The defense got turnovers in each of those games to counter.  Against the Chargers, it was a throwback example of the "bend but don't break" defense that gave up chunks of yards, but not many points.  

It seems that wherever the team is struggling, there is another area that steps up and takes over.  Many have talked about the day when the offense and defense will both play a solid game at the same time, but I caution against that hope.  Not because both areas aren't capable, but because they tend to feed off of one another.  If the offense is rolling, the defense will take more chances in trying to create quarterback pressure and may give up some bigger plays.  If the offense is struggling, the defense goes into the mode where they are allow yards underneath and tighten up in the red zone.  On an off day, the offense also tries to keep the ball longer to keep the opposing offense off the field.  As evidenced earlier by time of possession, that isn't happening as often as the Packers would like to see.  

As we move into the colder part of the schedule, Green Bay will have to keep the run game at bay and force opponents to throw to win.  That is where the Packers defense makes a lot of their hay and gets turnovers.  They're tied for third in the league with eight interceptions this season.  

With many divisional games upcoming and opposition strength aside, the Packers will need to match the physicality of those teams most familiar with them.  They appear up to the task.  With a healthy Adams and Lacy, the Packers would also be ready for a shootout.  They're doing this year what they haven't been able to do in years past and as a result, they're winning games.

Special Teams Are A Strength

Save for the botched defense of the fake punt against the Rams, the Packers special teams have been much better this season.  Punter Tim Masthay has had his struggles and the Packers appear to be sticking with him over bringing in competition or pulling the plug too soon.  They did the same with kicker Mason Crosby after the 2012 season and while they did bring in competition in training camp, Crosby got the nod and had a nice turnaround in 2013.  Masthay was pushed in camp by Cody Mandell but won the job when it seemed as though Crosby wasn't kicking as well with Mandell as the holder.  Some are ready to say hasta la vista to Masthay but I remind everyone of the old cliche that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.  Masthay is a professional and works hard at his craft.  He's in a slump right now, but from what we've seen over his five plus seasons in Green Bay, we have good reason to believe he'll be fine.

The coverage units are gobbling up returners and appear to be uplifted by the leadership of Ron Zook.  Punt coverage has forced many a fair catch and one of the big reasons why is Janis.  Janis gets all sorts of attention for his play at receiver but has been good on kick and punt coverage.  He had the unfortunate gaffe on punt coverage against the Rams where he had a good chance to down the ball inside the five-yard line and allowed his momentum to take him into the end zone, but otherwise he's been solid.

Ty Montgomery is averaging 31.1 yards per return on kickoffs, which is an improvement over the last few seasons.  His longest return thus far is 46 yards but there is a growing sentiment that he will break one soon.  Montgomery has provided a huge boost in the return game and this is big for the Packers' field position.  The offense seems to struggle mightily when backed up inside their own 20-yard line so starting at the 30 or better is a good spot to be.

The biggest takeaway from this area is that there is improvement, which wasn't difficult to achieve after last season, but this unit is much improved and it will pay dividends for this team heading into the back half of the schedule.

Mid-Season Awards

MVP

Clay Matthews - Matthews has had a resurgence and a huge reason for the defensive success.  He has four-and-a-half sacks on the season and many more hits on the quarterback to go along with them.  His energy level is high, the predator is back and if it was up to the defense this year to get this team over the hump, It. Is. Time.  

Also in consideration here:  James Jones.  All Jones does is catch touchdowns.  He stepped off the plane in Green Bay and right into the end zone.  He's been a Godsend for this Packers team so far this season.

Rookie of the Year

Damarious Randall - this shouldn't be a huge shock, as Randall was the top pick in the draft, but as Packers fans know, that doesn't always translate into success on the field.  Randall has been very solid at the corner position.  When Casey Hayward moves into the slot, Randall takes over outside and has defended numerous deep balls so far this season.  He has good ball skills, as we saw by his game-clinching break up of the last pass against the Chargers.  For a player who wasn't on many boards in the first round and who has had to transition from safety to corner, Randall has done what most first rounders should:  contribute.  He has a great head on his shoulders and the NFL game isnt' too big for him.  He's very talented and could turn into a steal in this draft if he continues his rise each week.

Packers Most Need. . .

It's easy to throw Rodgers in here and say he's the team's most important player.  So outside of Rodgers, the Packers most need B.J. Raji.  Raji has proven to be a big part of the success of the defense up front in the middle.  Green Bay had planned to move Raji back to nose tackle last season before he suffered the biceps injury that ended his season.  Without B.J., the Packers gave up a lot of rushing yards to the Rams and had trouble blitzing Philip Rivers.  Many say games are won and lost in the trenches and Raji is a big example of why.  

 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Comments (12)

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Jeff Hayes's picture

October 24, 2015 at 03:47 pm

I think the mid season rookie of the year should be Ty Montgomery myself but Randall is playing stellar ball..I think Rollins is underrated as well he seems to have better hand than Randall

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lucky953's picture

October 24, 2015 at 04:27 pm

Most needed: Davante Adams healthy
Cobb is not 100% and is getting double coverage. Jones has trouble creating separation. Montgomery is doing as much as a rookie 3rd receiver could be expected to do. Richard R can't stretch the middle of the field. Adams knows the offense, has the QBs trust, is a good route runner and can create separation. He's the guy that can open things up for other receivers. With Nelson gone, Adams is a must-have.

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lucky953's picture

October 24, 2015 at 04:31 pm

Second choice: Morgan Burnett

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croatpackfan's picture

October 24, 2015 at 05:40 pm

Jason I suggest you to read this article... Very interesting compare 2014 and 2015 offense. The numbers are really surprising:

http://www.acmepackingcompany.com/2015/10/23/9604336/comparing-the-2015-...

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porupack's picture

October 25, 2015 at 06:25 am

Yeah, glad you referenced it here. I was going to do the same. I was surprised by the numbers.

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PaulRosik's picture

October 25, 2015 at 09:38 pm

Great article. Thanks for putting it there. It really shows how spoiled we are if we think what we've seen so far this season is sub par. 27 points per game and we wonder whats wrong with the offense.

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PortlandMark's picture

October 24, 2015 at 05:54 pm

I read the above article. It's amazing but the offense is actually better this year after 6 games and JJ is making us ask "Jordy who". If we get the injured guys back and Lacy gets going we should be on a course for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Carolina game is huge in three weeks.

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4thand1's picture

October 24, 2015 at 08:00 pm

As usual there's 2 players we need on the field. AR and CM. How this team can lead the league in injuries is beyond me. Except for last year they're always right up there. Seems like the same guys are always hurt, Raji, Perry, Neal. Lacy has me worried, I think concussions are part of the problem.

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PETER MAIZ's picture

October 24, 2015 at 08:21 pm

Nobody's been clear as to when Burnett is returning(?). But with Adams on board, the offense should start clicking the right way. With time, "Q" will be recognized as a great talent along with Randall. And there has got to be some way in heaven to involve the strong, tall and speedy Janis involved. If he's still not NFL smart, somebody in the organization has got to bring him up to speed or tutor him all day.
If some key players return, we can beat Denver and if we can beat Denver, we can go a long ways indeed.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 24, 2015 at 11:22 pm

In my opinion, its up to Janis to seek out and get the help he needs. He's got the perfect opportunity w/ Jordy out and acting as another coach. Like Raji did last year and helped Pennel a lot. But no one can make Janis do it. If Janis has an ounce of brains in him, he is w/ Jordy every day asking question after question to get everything he can from him. If Janis hasn't sought out Jordy for his help every hour of every day, I have to question how much he wants it. Lord knows Jordy is ready and willing!

All I can say is, I hope like hell Janis is doing just that.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 25, 2015 at 01:12 am

A nice article. You might have listed Palmer, Banjo, Thomas and Pennel as back-ups who have contributed, though I suppose Pennel (like Datone) was thought to be part of the rotation. Ripkowski, Banjo and Janis could have been mentioned on special teams. Really, no one on offense comes to mind other than Walker and his 45 snaps. I suppose Starks might qualify, though in his case it is not unexpected and he has always been part of the rotation. Starks has improved his pass pro as well.

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PaulRosik's picture

October 25, 2015 at 09:44 pm

I think Janis's one long pass was a result of a great adjustment and not a botched route but otherwise a good treatment.

I think people are stunned to realize that the Packers are top 5 in the league in rushing and average passing so far this season. But the offensive line has struggled at the edges and Rodgers has had to be creative to find open targets.

The defense has been good and will be helped if the offense turns it on even more. They are really built to play with a lead and go after the passer from multiple angles.

The team has been fun to watch so far and looking forward to more the rest of the year. Go Pack!

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