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The Packers’ Five Keys to Winning the Super Bowl

If the Green Bay Packers are finally going to win another Super Bowl, they must solve these five issues before the playoffs begin.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Is it possible to limp and sprint at the same time?

With a 36-28 victory over the Rams on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers sprinted into the bye week with a 9-3 record. They also limped into the bye with a long list of injuries to key players.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a team that’s suffered this many injuries,” coach Matt LaFleur said on Monday. “It is encouraging that we’re sitting where we are right now at 9-3 and having to battle through so much adversity.”

Green Bay is called Titletown, and it’s not because it’s won so many NFC North titles. The Packers, who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2010, have dropped back-to-back NFC Championship Games. With long-term uncertainty at quarterback and monumental challenges looming with the salary cap, time is of the essence.

Injuries are out of their hands. Focusing on things they can control, these are the five keys to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on the night of Feb. 13, 2022.

1. Red zone/gold zone

One of the great mysteries in life is how the Packers keep winning when they’re so awful in the red zone.

Offensively, in Nathaniel Hackett’s beloved gold zone, the Packers are 25th with a touchdown rate of 55.3 percent. Even those final 10 yards are difficult. In goal-to-go situations, they’re 23rd at 68.2 percent. Last year, Green Bay was No. 1 with an all-time great 80.0 percent touchdown rate in the red zone and No. 2 with a goal-to-go success rate of 90.5 percent.

“The gold zone, we set such a high standard,” Hackett said on Monday. “I think that we really need to look at that and make sure we’re doing the right things, see what people are doing to maybe stop us or what we’re doing and how we might be hurting ourselves, and just make sure we’ve got a good package going into these last five games. It’s December football now. You’re going to have to score in the gold zone.”

Defensively, the Packers are fifth with 20.2 points allowed per game even while ranking 30th in the red zone (71.9 percent) and 22nd in goal-to-go (78.3 percent). Last year, it was No. 8 in the red zone (57.7 percent) and No. 4 in goal-to-go (66.7 percent). So, there’s been tremendous regression on defense, too.

“If you go back two weeks ago, there was like two third-and-10 conversions for touchdowns,” LaFleur said of the Minnesota game. “We just can’t allow those ones to happen. We’ve got to be better in those situations.”

Green Bay, Detroit and Las Vegas are the only teams in the bottom 10 on both sides of the ball.

2. Special teams

This is a big one, especially with the offense’s red-zone issues.

A 9-3 record suggests the Packers are a powerhouse but that’s really not the case. They kicked a long field goal to beat San Francisco, they survived a barrage of missed field goals to beat Cincinnati and they got a gift-wrapped interception to hold off Arizona.

In the playoffs, can Mason Crosby make a field goal with the game on the line? Can someone field a punt to give the offense a chance for a winning drive?

“I think a lot of the negative plays get magnified, rightfully so, but I think there’s a lot of positive plays, too,” LaFleur said, referencing the performance of the punt team and the improving kickoff coverage. “Any time you miss any kick, it’s going to be magnified. So, I thought overall our operation has gotten steadily better just between those three guys. And I think our protection as the season has progressed has gotten noticeably better.”

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3. Getting Lazard Back on Track

Last season, Allen Lazard became a reliable and regular contributor by catching 33 passes for 451 yards (13.7 average) and three touchdowns in 10 games. Officially, he caught 71.7 percent of his targets with 13 incompletions. In 10 games this season, he’s caught 19 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. He’s caught 59.4 percent of his targets with 13 incompletions.

After catching five passes (six targets) for 60 yards vs. Washington, he sat out a game due to COVID protocols. Since then, he caught one pass (one target) for 20 yards and one touchdown at Kansas City, one pass (four targets) for 6 yards against Seattle, was inactive vs. Minnesota and caught two passes (six targets) for 13 yards with two drops vs. the Rams.

At 6-foot-5, Lazard should be a matchup advantage. However, according to Pro Football Focus, he’s caught just 2-of-8 contested catches. He caught 6-of-12 contested balls the last two years combined.

The Packers don’t need Lazard to be a 100-yard receiver each and every week. But they do need him to pick up some of the slack created by tight end Robert Tonyan’s torn ACL. While they play different positions, Lazard is the player with the Tonyan-like skill-set in the passing game.

4. Rushing Offense

On paper, there are few one-two punches as good as Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. That’s on paper, though. The reality is Green Bay’s rushing attack has not been good enough.

The Packers are averaging 4.08 yards per carry. That’s 21st in the NFL, a huge slide from last year’s seventh-ranked 4.76 yards per carry and even the 16th-ranked 4.37 yards per carry in 2019.

Obviously, it takes a unit to run the football. By one measure, the backs have done their part. According to SportRadar, 48.8 percent of Green Bay’s rushing yards have come after contact, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. By another measure, the line is doing its part. Green Bay’s backs have been stuffed (a gain 0 yards or less) 6.7 percent of the time, the seventh-lowest rate in the NFL.

Taken in totality, Green Bay’s season-long rushing game is a lot like it was on Sunday against the Rams – consistently decent but not overwhelming. Only two teams have fewer 10-yard runs than the Packers’ 23. If defenses are going to continue to play two deep safeties to limit Davante Adams and Green Bay’s big-play passing attack, the Packers are going to have to run the ball more effectively.

5. Limiting Big-Play Passes

This was an all-timer of a line by former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine:

“A wise coach told me a long time ago you can fly to Miami a lot faster than you can walk there,” Pettine said about prioritizing pass defense over run defense. “You’re going to get beat through the air. That’s the bottom line.”

Building on that, it’s a lot faster to get to Los Angeles for this year’s Super Bowl with a supersonic jet than flying commercial.

The Packers have been one of the best in the NFL at eliminating big-play passes. According to SportRadar, Green Bay is 10th with 34 passes of 20-plus yards allowed. That’s excellent. However, after giving up just three apiece during impressive performances against Kansas City and Seattle, the Packers gave up a season-worst seven vs. Minnesota. They gave up only three vs. the Rams, but two of those were for long touchdowns.

Obviously, quarterback play is the key to winning games and championships. That means it’s just as important to have answers against those quarterbacks. Look at the top five in the NFC standings. Arizona, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Los Angeles have elite-level quarterbacks. Those quarterbacks are going to complete passes. The key is to minimize the damage.

“It’s been a fun 12 weeks, there’s no doubt about it,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “And obviously excited about the remainder.”