(editor’s note: after the unexpected moves the Packers made at the trade deadline, I’ve added a few notes within the original text set aside in italics)
One of my favorite parts of reading football during the week is looking at how the opponent’s media outlet covers the Packers. It’s interesting to see things through the other side of the looking glass. Sometimes it makes me think about things in a different light, but so many times there’s just clickbait nonsense like the article that said the Packers should trade for LeSean McCoy (I’m not putting up the link because I won’t encourage their clicks, not because I’m lazy… even though I am).
So here it is, the top 10 things Patriots fans should know about the the Packers before this weeks big tilt:
Aaron Jones is a special player. He doesn’t get a lot of snaps, though. There’s lot of theories as to why (McCarthy thinks Jamaal Williams is better, coach is mad about the suspension, Jones isn’t a great pass blocker, etc), but I think it’s actually because McCarthy doesn’t want to wear him down. Jones has an injury history and he’s the kind of sparkplug that doesn’t need 20 carries to find his rhythm and wear down opponents like Eddie Lacy. So why run him ragged? Aaron Jones is spectacular, but this offense runs through Aaron Rodgers – they don’t need to run that much. But you should not be surprised if he rips off 12-yarders regularly. He does most of his damage finding creases between the tackles and using his superhuman anticipation and field vision to smoothly shift to where the hole is going to be. He’s good. Really good. (Note: With the trade of Ty Montgomery, there are now just two running backs on the roster. My belief is that McCarthy will hedge his injury risk by splitting carries evenly between the two backs.)
The Packers don’t have a fearsome edge rusher, but they do get pressure. Clay Matthews can’t do the things he used to because his body doesn’t bend the way it used to, but he’s still got some moves and Nick Perry has a nice bullrush, but that’s about it. The Packers under Mike Pettine have used a lot of zone blitzes, inside twists, and DBs up the middle to generate creative pressure. The Packers don’t have anyone in the top (or the middle) of the sack leaders, but as a team, they are almost top 10.
Mike McCarthy is a big-game motivator. He’s not a rah-rah guy, though – he’s a Pittsburgh tough guy who makes his team confident they can win any game . Don’t let anomalies like the 2016 NFCCG blowout against Atlanta fool you, he has his team ready for big games. The Packers were decimated by injuries going into that game (down to the 6th corner as CB1 and had a defensive lineman playing RG by the end of the game), and they had the flu, and they had no business even getting to that game. Look back at his playoff record. Almost every game goes down to the wire and he gets them farther than they deserve to go. Sure, 12 has a lot to do with that, but so does the coach. He may get fired after the season – and deserve it – but it’s not because he doesn’t have the team believing in itself for big games. If the Packers get down early, they won’t roll over.
Jaire Alexander is a beast and his size has yet to be an issue. He is the best rookie corner the Packers have had in my lifetime for sure. He has the ability to teleport at the end of a play to make a breakup. He took his game to another level against the Rams and really announced his arrival, making Bradin Cooks his b!tch. He also has a fun swagger that the Packers have lacked since Brett Favre . Watch out for him.
Special teams have been a mixed bag. Mason Crosby is a historic kicker who lost a couple games on missed field goals. JK Scott is a rookie punter with the ability to boom one 65 yards as well as shank a 20-yarder from his own 25 late in the 4th with a 1 point lead. Ty Montgomery… well, let’s not talk about the return game. (Note: Actually, now let’s talk about it. Ty wasn’t cut because he made a bad choice and a big mistake, he was cut because of the ensuing media drama that was a huge distraction. I have no idea who will be back there returning kicks now, but there’s sure to be some trepidation and Mike McCarthy seems like the kind of coach who would either make d#mn sure everyone kneels every kick or he will tell the new returner to bring out everything to make a statement. In a game like this, it may be the latter. If I was the Patriots, though, I would pop up every kick off to the 5 yard line and force a return because the Green Bay return game has been nothing special this year.)
Kenny Clark is the beginning and end of the defense. Any team would be foolish to leave him in single blocking. Double teaming doesn’t shut him down and he’s found ways to cause problems against triple teaming. He’s freakishly powerful and way more athletic than anyone built like him has any business being. He is playing like an All Pro, looking like a man among boys, wreaking havoc in a way that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Davante Adams is better than advertised. Packer fans can’t understand why he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but he can do it all. He has an array of killer moves off the line and can hover in the air and wait for a ball. Stats are for losers – Davante Adams has elite skills. Behind him, rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been coming on and capitalizing on some amazing physical gifts (6’4″ 4.37), Randall Cobb is still a guy to watch on 3rd down scramble drills, and Geronimo Allison is a steady role player. The receivers have been productive, but the tight end position, has underwhelmed. Jimmy Graham is not the player he once was and has basically served as an oversized slot receiver (he hasn’t even been much of a red zone threat this year). It may be that he hasn’t been able to establish a rapport with Rodgers because they both miss so much practice, but Graham has a career-low catch percentage going this year, tipped a ball that resulting in Rodgers’s only interception of the year, and just hasn’t looked consistent despite coming up with a few long plays. Marcedes Lewis has been tragically under-utilized, and the other tight ends (Lance Kendricks and Robert Tonyan) are good players that hardly play. McCarthy has bellowed about wanting a tight end for years and now he has a bunch and doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.
The cornerback depth chart (led by Jaire Alexander) has been deep and productive, but the safety play has been pretty bad on the whole. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix isn’t as terrible as some fans would say, but he has been very inconsistent. He’ll make a perfect read and blow up a sideline route, coming away with the ball in what seems like an impossible play… then he’ll follow it up the next drive by taking such a bad angle that he doesn’t even touch a runner, then he’ll get caught flat-footed and standing straight up in end zone defense while a crossing route catches a touchdown right in front of him. If offenses want to attack Mike Pettine’s D (which has been very good, especially by Green Bay standards) they should look for ways to isolate the safeties in coverage or throw into hi-low coverage and count on the safety messing up and taking the corner out of the play. (Note: this now goes double after the Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Redskins for a 4th round pick – more on the impact of that here – whoever takes on his snaps will not have a lot of experience. HA Ha played every single snap and his presence will be missed. No one knows if unheralded backups like Josh Jones or Raven Greene will take on more snaps. Jermaine Whitehead has been getting more snaps the last few weeks, but they haven’t been spectacular. Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize any of those names. Given how Mike Pettine has built flexibility into his scheme, it’s possible they run a lot of single safety sets to take advantage of their deep cornerback depth chart. They may also use Tramon Williams at safety, a position he played in Cleveland when Mike Pettine was the defensive coordinator there. Whatever happens, the unfamiliarity is just as likely to help the Packers by providing unscouted looks as it is to hurt the Packers by not having any continuity or familiarity.)
Right Guard is the weakness of the offense. It’s been a bit of a revolving door. Kyle Murphy got hurt, then Justin McCray got hurt, now Byron Bell is in there. It’s not a trainwreck, but it has been inconsistent and it’s definitely the weak spot of the offense. David Bakhtiari is the best LT in the league and the other three blockers outside RG are solid to good. Right guard is where to attack the Packers offense and overload blitzes.
Aaron Rodgers can’t move like he did pre-injury. He has been getting better each week, but it’s been slow progress and the bye didn’t fix it. He can still get outside and pick up a cheap first down, but he’s getting caught from behind a lot, which used to be extremely rare. He also has not been able to plant and fire, flinging most of his passes from the elbow and throwing a lot of sidearms.
Bonus insight: Even with the injury, Rodgers is better than Brady 😉
The Packers, as Mike McCarthy is famously quoted for, are nobody’s underdog, but probably won’t win. They’ll make it a good game, but in the end, this team probably isn’t quite ready to walk into New England and leave with a victory. Sure, anything can happen, that’s why we watch. (Note: The hub-bub that went down this week with the Ty Montgomery controversy and late season trades made for the type of distractions that this organization has not had to deal with since the days of Mike McKenzie. Given their rarity, it’s hard to predict how it will impact the team. I think there may be a little trepidation in the return game and safety ranks to start the game. It should be gone by the second quarter, but it make have a big impact in those areas in the first.)
These are two perennial contenders with amazing QBs that started the season a little slow. The Patriots seem to have got closer to their groove than the Packers at this point and homefield advantage will probably matter.
All I ask is that, should the Patriots win, the fans make their twitter smack creative and humorous.