Potential problems put early pressure on LaFleur
Time is running out for the Green Bay Packers.
Sure, the season-opening game at Chicago isn’t for another three weeks. But there are only six training camp practices and two preseason games remaining before Bears Week begins. With that last preseason game dedicated to the end-of-the-depth-chart players and roster battles, there’s really one game remaining to iron out the kinks.
The Packers have a chance to be really good, Thursday night’s woeful 26-13 verdict at the Baltimore Ravens notwithstanding. When Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Jones step on the field together, the offense will improve exponentially over the woeful product that couldn’t get out of its own way on Thursday. The defense, with five high-profile additions, should be infinitely better than the units that finished in the 20s in points allowed each of the past three seasons. But the Ravens unmasked the Packers as a team that might be lacking in physicality.
Physicality shows in the running game. Baltimore outrushed the Packers 171-55. That includes a lopsided 79-7 during the first half, when it was starters vs. starters and top backups vs. top backups.
Sure, a healthy Jones and Jamaal Williams might have changed the equation from Green Bay’s offensive perspective, but there was precious little room for the backs who were on the field. In fact, by our count, the Packers’ backs had 17 yards after contact during the first half, meaning they were routinely hit at or behind the line of scrimmage and had to fight to get even minimal yardage.
On the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s defense has been superb on the practice field and was last week against Houston, but it had a hard time handling the Ravens’ running game. It’s critical to note the Packers didn’t spend much, if any, practice time on the Ravens’ schemes. Still, the inability to handle Mark Ingram and Co. opened the play-action door.
There’s another way to measure physicality, and that’s missed tackles. By our on-the-fly count, obviously unofficial count, the Packers missed 17 tackles compared to only six for the Ravens. Last week, by our count, the Packers missed 19 tackles compared to only four for the Texans. That’s an unsightly 36-10 disparity. Again, the presence of Rodgers and Jones would help change that dynamic, but this is a massive problem that coach Matt LaFleur must get a handle on in short order.
“We’ve got to do a better job in practice, probably up the intensity level a little bit,” LaFleur said. “A little more really wrap(ping) up on thud. That’s how we’ll do a little better.”
And, for the second week in a row, penalties kept pushing the Packers the wrong way. After being flagged 12 times for 102 yards against the Texans, the carnage vs. the Ravens was nine penalties for 67 yards against the Packers compared to four tackles for 40 yards against Baltimore.
Scheme is great on both sides of the ball but scheme doesn’t win games. Never has, never will. LaFleur’s offense isn’t going to work if there isn’t room for the running backs. Without Darrin Hall’s 28-yard run, Green Bay would be averaging 2.65 yards per carry. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s pass-rushing plans will be irrelevant if the defense can’t stop the run and create more third-and-long plays.
Ultimately, what happened at Baltimore doesn’t mean a darned thing. But these early trouble spots will put an early spotlight on LaFleur’s trouble-shooting ability. Regardless of what the calendar might say, he doesn’t have much time.