GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers scored a decisive victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. The Bears are in rebuilding moment and are a long way from being competitive on a weekly basis. Still, there were some good signs coming out of that game as the Packers look ahead to a showdown at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
One: Coaching Adjustments
This might seem obvious, but the key to coaching is fixing what’s wrong, whether that’s adjusting from game to game or drive to drive. Credit to Matt LaFleur and his staff for fixing some of what went wrong at Minnesota in Week 1.
Offensively, LaFleur left Minnesota kicking himself for getting Aaron Jones only eight touches. Jones had 10 touches in the first half alone and finished the night with 18 touches for 170 yards and two touchdowns. With the ball in his hands, he’s Green Bay’s best offensive threat. The Packers have to get him the ball and let him do his thing.
Jones was absolutely tremendous against the Bears. By our count, he forced 12 missed tackles; PFF credited him with 14. Pro Football Focus has a stat called elusive rating, which measures a back’s performance independent of blocking. Jones leads that metric by a mile. Of the 51 running backs with at least 10 carries, he is No. 1 with 5.35 yards after contact per rush. Only Nick Chubb has more broken tackles than Jones on running plays. He’s got six carries of 10-plus yards after having 17 all last season.
Defensively, the communication errors that plagued the secondary vs. Minnesota seemed to be squared away. That has nothing to do with quarterback play but everything to do with receivers running free through zones. Darnell Mooney, who topped 1,000 yards last year, had one catch for minus-4.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, the Bears had four first downs and 71 yards on the opening drive but only two first downs and 63 yards through the rest of the opening three quarters. That’s a job well done by Joe Barry’s defense.
Two: Running Game
The Packers rushed for 203 yards against Chicago. Obviously, there’s some chicken-and-egg to this but teams that rush for 200-plus yards are 99-16-1 since the start of the 2019 season. Even with a more modest 150 rushing yards, teams are 275-92-3.
There’s no great mystery about the state of Green Bay’s offense. The passing game, as Aaron Rodgers has said a number of times, will be a work in progress. There’s no point in throwing the ball 35 times and hoping for the best. Ride Jones and AJ Dillon and rely on a solid group of run blockers, which includes tight end Marcedes Lewis and receivers Allen Lazard and Sammy Watkins, to create winning third-down situations and set up the play-action passing game, an area in which Rodgers is brilliant.
“Our blocking unit did a great job coming out and creating space for me – not just the o-line but the receivers and tight ends, as well,” Jones said. He added, “You know what’s coming, but you have to stop it. That’s not easy to do. I just say kudos to our whole offensive unit and our whole team for responding and bouncing back from last week.”
The Buccaneers allowed 5.1 yards per carry vs. the Saints.
Three: Special Teams
The panic over Green Bay’s special teams in the preseason, predictably, was overblown. LaFleur hired Rich Bisaccia for a reason and that was to turn the Packers’ perennially dreadful special teams into a strength.
So far, so good. While the return units have been OK – Amari Rodgers had a 20-yard punt return but muffed a punt, as well – every other phase has been solid. The additions of veterans Rudy Ford, Dallin Leavitt, Keisean Nixon and Pat O’Donnell have produced early dividends. O’Donnell’s six punts have yielded just 7 return yards.
The kicking operation of kicker Mason Crosby, rookie long snapper Jack Coco and holder O’Donnell have been good in games but, based on pregame warmups, has some work to do. That’s no surprise considering Crosby missed all of training camp.
“I thought just the jump we made in that area from Week 1 to Week 2 was pretty significant,” LaFleur said. “I thought that’s as aggressive as we’ve been in my time here. I think there’s a mentality brewing. Again, it’s only one game and you’ve got to do it consistently, and our guys know that. Hopefully, we’ll see more improvement in this upcoming game. We know we’ve got a great challenge in front of us, too. Tampa Bay is loaded. It will be pretty significant task.”