GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are 8-2 and own the best record in the NFC. These six areas, some of which have flown under the radar, are why the Packers are set up to earn the No. 1 seed, homefield advantage and finally get back to the Super Bowl.
The Packers are fourth in the league with a plus-7 turnover ratio. They are tied for sixth with 16 takeaways and tied for fifth with nine giveaways.
Everybody knows that turnovers are the key to winning games. The numbers from this season are absurd. Team that win the turnover battle have won 72.6 percent of the time. Teams that are plus-2 or better have won 88.0 percent of the time. Green Bay is 7-0 when winning the turnover battle and 0-2 when it loses.
With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers will always be excellent in this phase. No quarterback in NFL history has a lower interception percentage than Rodgers. Impressively, Rodgers has fumbled only once this season – the botched snap last week. For perspective, 20 quarterbacks have fumbled at least five times.
Sometimes, turnovers are the byproduct of good fortune. With confidence in the secondary, a steady pass rush and a swarming mentality, the defense’s takeaways are the real deal.
2. No-Fly Zone
The Packers are third in the NFL with an opponent passer rating of 82.4. That they’ve been so good despite the alarming number of injuries – Za’Darius Smith has missed nine games, Jaire Alexander six games and Kevin King five games – has been remarkable.
Critically, Green Bay is fourth with 23 passing plays of 20-plus yards allowed. The coverage has been sticky, the safeties have been excellent and the tackling has been strong.
“You listen to offensive guys, they want to take shots. They want big plays, they want chunk plays,” defensive backs coach Jerry Gray said. “Everybody’s trying to find a way to get a ball over your head. I was raised the same way with Fritz Shurmur when we were in L.A. [when Gray was a cornerback with the Rams]. Most teams don’t want to drive the ball 15 plays and score. They want the glorified touchdown and he’s like, ‘Somewhere along the line, if you make them dink and dunk, they’re going to make a mistake. They’re going to take a shot and you’re going to get a chance to get an interception.’ And a lot of times, teams don’t like that, but I think we’re doing a great job of understanding what this defense allows us to do and give us a chance, ‘You know what, make teams dink and dunk the ball. Don’t give up shots.’ And then you have a chance to win a lot of football games.”
As everyone knows, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The other side of that coin is the importance of stopping top quarterbacks. Over the last three games, while facing Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, the Packers have allowed a meager 59.7 passer rating. If Alexander returns for the stretch run and the current standard continues, the Packers will win the Super Bowl.
3. Passing Efficiency
Last year, Rodgers won MVP in posting one of the best quarterbacking seasons in NFL history. He led the NFL in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and interception percentage, something that had been done only once over the last 80 years. This year, his completion percentage is down 4.3 percent, he’s averaging 0.8 yards less per attempt and his passer rating has plunged nearly 20 points.
Packers Sign QB-Turned-Receiver-Turned-QB to Practice Squad
The Packers promoted Kurt Benkert and signed Danny Etling, a seventh-round draft pick by New England in 2018, to the practice squad.
Still, there are a couple building blocks. One, his receivers have usually caught the ball. According to SportRadar, Green Bay has a drop rate of 3.9 percent, the third-best in the NFL. And Rodgers averages 6.16 yards after the catch per completion, second-best among full-time starters.
Once David Bakhtiari returns to solidify the offensive line and once Rodgers finds harmony with his receivers after an unusual few weeks, the efficiency should improve. Combined with good hands and YAC, the passing game could really take off down the stretch.
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There’s almost nothing worse in football than doing everything right but allowing a big play, anyway, because of a missed tackle. Heading into Week 11, the Packers are third in the NFL with only 49 misses, according to SportRadar.
Turning to Pro Football Focus, these are Green Bay’s tackling-percentage standouts by position (based on 50 percent playing time): De’Vondre Campbell is No. 1 out of 52 off-the-ball linebackers, Adrian Amos is seventh out of 66 safeties and Rashan Gary is 19th out of 60 edge defenders. King doesn’t make the playing-time threshold at cornerback but has missed just one tackle this season. His missed-tackle rate is 5.6 percent; entering this season, it was 16.4 percent. Fellow cornerback Eric Stokes hasn’t missed a tackle since Week 5 at Cincinnati.
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Former coach Mike McCarthy didn’t mind certain types of penalties. Current coach Matt LaFleur hates penalties, period.
Green Bay has been guilty of 4.30 penalties per game, best in the NFL. Those have resulted in 41.40 yards in infractions per game, second-fewest in the NFL. Considering the inconsistency on offense and the injuries on defense, the disciplined play has been key in not making a tough job even tougher.
McCarthy’s Cowboys, by the way, have been the most-penalized team with 7.89 per game. This week’s opponent, Minnesota, has been penalized for a league-worst 74.22 penalty yards per game.
6. Listening to LaFleur
Going 1-0 is a consistent theme for LaFleur. Every coach says the same thing but it seems to resonate when LaFleur says it. Just look at last week, with Baltimore losing by 12 against woeful Miami, the Rams getting smacked by three touchdowns at disappointing San Francisco, the legendary Tom Brady losing by 10 against struggling Washington and the Cardinals getting trounced by Carolina in a battle of backup quarterbacks. Good teams lose to lesser teams every week. Under LaFleur, the Packers have largely been immune to it.
The Packers have the best record in the NFL. Their losses came in Week 1, when they stunk up the joint after largely skipping the preseason, and Week 9, when Rodgers didn’t play. Week after week, the Packers play winning football. It hasn’t been pretty but it’s been effective. They’re typically prepared and do the little things it takes to win. That’s a credit to LaFleur and his coaching staff.
Chances are, the Packers will lose another game this year. The big thing will be to not have one of those, “I can’t believe they lost to those guys!” type of games.
“They’ve done a great job,” LaFleur said of the defense. “It’s everything. It’s the collective. The coaches have done a great job preparing our players and the guys out on the field have been playing with great energy and great effort. I think that’s usually the mark of a really good defense. We still got a lot of ball in front of us, though. So, we just have to make sure we continue to keep stacking these great games and we’ll see where we’re at at the end of the things.”