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Blocking of Lazard, Watkins Powers Packers’ Run Game

Having two receivers who can be point-of-attack blockers is a building block on offense for Packers coach Matt LaFleur.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – With 80 percent of the passing game flowing through him, blocking wasn’t Davante Adams’ priority. With the new Green Bay Packers offense focusing on running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, blocking by the receivers is a much bigger deal.

With Allen Lazard on one side of the field and Sammy Watkins on the other, coach Matt LaFleur has two receivers capable of playing bully ball.

“Having both of those guys is certainly a weapon and presents some challenges for defenses in terms of who’s going to be at the point of attack,” LaFleur said on Monday, a day after a 27-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. “Because a lot of times, you’re going to put your best blockers, when you are running the football, at the point of attack. But when you got a guy on each side, I think it makes it a little more challenging for the defense.”

At 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, physicality has always been one of Lazard’s calling cards. Last season, LaFleur called him his “goon” and an “enforcer.” After missing Week 1 with an ankle injury, Lazard not only caught a touchdown pass vs. Chicago but helped the Packers rush for 203 yards – the third-most in the LaFleur era.

“I think it’s just the energy and how I go about my job and the emphasis I have on blocking and the details,” Lazard said after the game. “Just knowing how much it’s important. That first touchdown we had, I had a really good block on Roquan Smith. I kind of sealed the edge for Aaron (Jones) to get around him. Those type of plays, we’re able to feed off each other. Just because it wasn’t you making the play or maybe you weren’t in, you’re seeing it. So, you’re feeding off the energy and inspiring the other guys to go out there and make other good plays.”

Watkins was the lone veteran addition at receiver after the Packers lost Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. A 1,000-yard receiver in 2015, the hope was he would rekindle his career in Green Bay. Not only did he have three catches for 93 yards vs. Chicago, but he was active in the run game, too.

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“I love the run game,” Watkins said. “It keeps you so involved with going down there, cracking safeties. The wideouts are involved the whole game, so you can’t go out there and teeter around or take a play off. If you’re not blocking, then you really don’t need to be out there, so it’s fun.

“I’ve never been part of an offense that you had to block. In this offense, you have to go down there and crack the safety. You have to get your blocks and, honestly, I think that’s fun. It keeps me going, keeps me in the game, and then the next play, they might do a play-action and you’re wide open. That’s the luxury of being in this offense, blocking and talking trash and hitting guys in the mouth and knowing that you’re coming down and they’re looking at you and they’re knowing that you’re going to come and crack ‘em, that’s a great feeling.”

While LaFleur misstated PFF’s run-blocking grades – Watkins was ninth and Lazard was 23rd, not first and second, among 83 receivers with 170 run-blocking snaps last year – the early-season league data paints a perfect picture. Overall, Green Bay ranks third with 5.61 yards per rushing attempt. When Watkins is in the game, the run game averages 0.99 yards more per carry than when he’s on the sideline.

“Sammy is such a physical presence, too. He does a great job on the perimeter,” LaFleur said.

When Lazard is in the game, the run game is 0.41 yards better.

Lazard isn’t Adams as a receiver but, in this new offense, his presence was incredibly valuable as the Packers earned a huge bounce-back victory over the Bears.

“I think that the type of player that he is, the way he blocks, the way he run routes, the way he carries himself in the huddle, just that look in his eyes, like, man, I got somebody that’s going to work,” Watkins said. “Not saying that anybody else don’t have that, but that’s a dude that helped us today and we’re going to need him. I need him out there when I’m playing because he got that energy, like, ‘Man, I’m going to go get this ****ing block.’ He’s reminding me every play, like, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ He’s a great dude to have out there playing with me.”