GREEN BAY, Wis. – With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers rarely have been big underdogs.
With eight starters out of the lineup at kickoff – Davante Adams, David Bakhtiari, Josh Myers, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on offense, Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith and Kevin King on defense – the Packers were 6 1/2-point underdogs at undefeated Arizona on Thursday night. Green Bay won 24-21, a result secured in the most unlikely of fashions by a player who wasn’t on the roster 22 days earlier.
That 6 1/2-point spread was the fourth-largest that Rodgers had faced. Green Bay lost the other three games. In games in which he was an underdog of five-plus points, he was 1-7.
With that as a backdrop, here is the Week 8 report card.
Rodgers wasn’t great but what did you expect? He was 22-of-37 passing for 184 yards. Six of those completions were behind the line of scrimmage. He was just 2-of-7 on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield, with a touchdown to Randall Cobb and a gain of 33 to tight end Robert Tonyan. To state the obvious, life is just different without Adams, Lazard and Valdes-Scantling. A, they get open and, B, they make the play. Amari Rodgers and Juwann Winfree had drops. By our unofficial count, the Packers’ receivers had two drops all season – Adams in Week 3 and Cobb last week. Winfree also fumbled away a potential touchdown.
The big matchups were Green Bay’s offensive tackles, Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner, against the Cardinals’ outside linebackers, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden. Matt LaFleur’s reliance on quick passes helped but give an especially decisive victory to Jenkins against Jones, who had five sacks in Week 1. Right guard Royce Newman, who has had a growing-pains rookie season, might have had his best day in protection.
Losing Tonyan to a torn ACL is an enormous blow. Will the Packers go shopping for a tight end or just use Lazard in those pass-catching roles?
The Packers barely ran the ball last week. So, maybe Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon were fresh. Dillon, who fumbled twice in four touches vs. Washington, was magnificent. He carried 16 times for 78 thundering yards. By our unofficial count, he had 67 yards after contact and forced six missed tackles. For a big chunk of the game, he was the only reliable source of offense.
Jones carried 15 times for 59 yards, his 3.9-yard average a full yard less than Dillon’s mark, but he was the leading receiver with seven receptions for 51 yards. Between rushes (two) and receptions (five), he forced seven missed tackles.
Jenkins had a terrific all-around game and tight end Dominique Dafney’s return was welcomed. Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis might not win every block but he’s also asked to win blocks that most tight ends couldn’t handle on their best day. The black mark was the inability to punch it in at the goal line.
Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray was halfway to winning NFL MVP honors. He entered the game ranked first in completion percentage and third in passer rating. The Packers, without their starting cornerbacks and top pass rusher, held Murray to a 67.0 passer rating – about 50 points less than his season mark entering the game.
Sure, it helped that the Cardinals had a half-strength DeAndre Hopkins for half the game. Trust me, given their own problems, the Packers were going to offer no sympathy.
First-round pick Eric Stokes got lost on Hopkins’ big play that set up the Cardinals’ opening touchdown, and he gave up a too-easy completion on fourth down. Really, though, he continues to play winning ball. Imagine him as the No. 2 cornerback if Jaire Alexander returns. Rasul Douglas, the hero with his game-changing interception, has earned continued playing time. Other than one explosive play and a penalty, it was another strong performance in the slot by underrated Chandon Sullivan.
The pass rush continues to be fantastic. Remember when half the fans wanted the Packers to dump Preston Smith and Dean Lowry? And thought Rashan Gary was a bust? They rushed effectively and smartly to keep the magnificent Murray mostly in the pocket.
The Cardinals ran the ball 20 times for 74 yards, a pedestrian 3.7-yard average. Chase Edmonds, who was averaging close to 6 yards per carry on the season, managed a 4.3 average on his seven attempts. Receiver Rondale Moore, perhaps the fastest player on the field, ran twice for 1 yard.
Other than Edmonds’ 11-yard touchdown against a befuddled defense in the first quarter and James Conner’s 9-yard touchdown with TJ Slaton giving Kenny Clark a breather in the fourth quarter, it was a total victory. Of course, they all count, but Arizona’s other 18 carries gained just 54 yards.
The risk of playing rookies is they make mistakes. The payoff is if they grow through those problems. The Packers are waiting for growth. Amari Rodgers fumbled on his first punt return and Kylin Hill took a kickoff out of the end zone and was injured and tackled at the 9 to put the offense in an unnecessary hole. Another young player, Malik Taylor, had a bad penalty on a successful punt return.
On the other hand, Corey Bojorquez remains a game-changing weapon as a punter. His 57-yarder to the sideline carried returner Rondale Moore out of bounds, and his pooch punt was fumbled by Moore and recovered by Ty Summers at the 3.
Of Green Bay’s five kickoffs, the Cardinals started inside the 20 three times.
Great players win games, but four of the Packers’ great players were out of the lineup. Davante Adams, David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith all finished among the top 51 players in NFL Network’s annual player-voted Top 100 Players series. These are field-tilting performers.
A great quarterback can be the savior in these types of situations, but Rodgers’ hands were tied without his top three receivers. So, the credit for this belongs to the coaches. LaFleur mostly stuck with the running game and found a way to control the game with his undermanned offense. The defense, with Joe Barry at home because of COVID, mostly kept one of the great offenses in the NFL under wraps. The red zone remains a problem in both phases, which is the only reason why this isn’t an A-plus.