All Wins Are Nice, but The Packers' Week 1 Win Didn't Answer Many Questions
The 2016 Packer offense looks startlingly like the 2015 offense so far
The Packers escaped Jacksonville with a nice win against a game opponent, but I left more worried about the state of the offense than I was before. Jordy Nelson, seeing his first game action since the injury, acquitted himself well and will probably continue to improve, but it would have been nice to see some kind of leap in any other area. Instead we saw a virtual re-run of last year’s subpar offense, as they were unable to exploit an average defense.
Chief among my concerns is Eddie Lacy, who looks every bit as big as last year’s model, and still seems to lack the speed and burst of two years ago despite his high-profile offseason work with P90x fitness guru Tony Horton.
Lacy was once a force inside and outside the tackles, but in his current form he is unable to beat linebackers (or anyone else) outside. He was late hitting holes and was too often tripped up in the backfield. Here is Lacy in a nutshell.
Tretter does an excellent job pulling and sealing off his man inside, opening a hole for Lacy, but by the time he actually gets there the Jaguar pursuit has already arrived and they blow up the play. Some have criticized the Packers for running outside with a power back like Lacy, but in 2014 he had no issues with stretch plays or outside runs, and he probably powers into the end zone here. Many will probably remember his 28-yard run at the end to the third quarter, but he was buried for one yard or less on five of fourteen carries, and while he had some nice runs, he left a lot of yards on the field. Compounding this issue is the fact that James Starks also looks like he’s lost a step, and he was the saving grace of the run game last season.
No one should blame any of this on the offensive line or the loss of Josh Sitton. The line played very well in general with the aforementioned J.C. Tretter leading the way. The center was outstanding, and solidified the middle while opening up big holes in the running game. I have yet to see a bad game out of Tretter and he may have a case as the line’s best player by season’s end.
In the passing game, Davante Adams made a nice grab on an unbelievably great 29-yard touchdown throw from Aaron Rodgers, but he also had a mostly disappointing effort complete with drops, poor routes, and a general lack of explosion after the catch. Adams saw 7 targets and managed to haul in 3 passes, which is unfortunately a typical Adams line. He was only part of the problem though, as Jared Cook no-showed almost completely in his debut (1 catch, 7 yards) and Jared Abbrederis wasn’t much better. Rodgers missed a few throws (including a few would-be touchdowns) and once the offense gels this may look a lot different, but as of now this is still a concern. The passing game was extremely reliant on Nelson, Cobb, and Adams, and until Nelson is fully back, this is a problem.
Defensively the team played very well with a few exceptions. All-pro receiver Allen Robinson had 6 receptions for 72 yards, but it took him 15 targets to get generate even that much offense. Allen Hurns was a bit more efficient, but in general most of the Jaguar big plays came on well-designed deception, not in winning one-on-one battles. Winning on deception counts just as much as anything else, but it’s also easier to do so early in the season before teams have tape on each other. The run defense was also very encouraging, and the improvement in the middle of the field for the Packers is the best reason to be excited. While T.J. Yeldon managed to punch in an impressive touchdown, on the day he had just 39 yards on 21 carries. Morgan Burnett was outstanding in both coverage and in shoring up the middle in run support, and Nick Perry quietly had one of his best games ever, providing a sorely needed pass rush with great work against the run. Perry saw the second most snaps of any linebacker after Matthews, and if you didn’t notice a lot of action out of Julius Peppers, Perry’s strong play is the reason why. Peppers played just 29 mostly ineffective snaps, and this will be an interesting trend to track all season.
Nick Perry makes a tackle against the Jaguars.
The only real blemish was the pass rush overall. Clay Matthews was able to get into the backfield repeatedly, and while he was a disruptive force, he failed to wrap up properly allowing Jacksonville to stay in the game. Mike Daniels also had a quiet game, though his lone tackle did result in a two-yard loss. Bortles was sacked 3 times so it’s not as if he wasn’t seeing pressure, but he did enjoy several clean pockets, and generally had plenty of time to survey the field and make throws. Still this was an impressive first performance, and while it’s easy to imagine the Packer offense struggling with the Viking defense next week, it’s also hard to imagine the Viking offense doing much of anything.
The Vikings Win Ugly
I watched the entire Vikings-Titans games as well, and while the score shows a comfortable win for the Vikings, it doesn’t begin to reflect how poorly both teams played. Shaun Hill, starting at quarterback for the injured Teddy Bridgewater, has historically been about as good as the recently acquired Sam Bradford (for whom the Vikings traded a first and a fourth round pick, but wasn’t familiar enough with the offense to start), however Hill is old for an NFL player at 36 and he looked washed up for the duration of the game. The Vikings won on two gift defensive touchdowns, one on a botched handoff by Marcus Mariota without a Viking anywhere near him, and one on an ill-advised throw under pressure, where a more experienced quarterback would have taken a sack. The Viking offense only managed a handful of field goals, and was completely ineffective running (Adrian Peterson - 19 carries, 31 yards, 2 targets, 0 catches) as well as passing (Shaun Hill - 18/33, 236 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs). Their defense did play well in bottling up the Titan offense, but in reality they were lucky to win this game, and they will find it much more difficult to generate defensive scores against the famously careful Rodgers.
We will almost certainly see Bradford taking over for Hill next week, and it is possible that he could spark the passing game for the Vikings. Bradford is merely average, but he is a strong-armed quarterback, and a good fit for the famously vertical Norv Turner passing game. That said, Bradford is turnover prone, coming off a year in which he threw 19 touchdowns against 14 picks in 14 games, and the Packer secondary feasts on such quarterbacks. I suspect we’re in for a defensive slugfest in week 2, and I suspect the Packers will have enough to come out on top.