GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers improved to 2-1 following a huge early-season victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Some of the weaknesses were solved on Sunday, others were not. Here’s a look at coach Matt LaFleur’s to-do list.
Fixed: Special Teams
Green Bay’s special teams aren’t spectacular. But they are better. Much better. So much better that quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who for years has longed for that phase to simply break even in a game, felt the Packers had the advantage on Sunday.
According to Football Outsiders, the Packers rank 14th in DVOA on special teams. The play of the kicking units has been instrumental. Punter Pat O’Donnell is fifth in net average and second inside-the-20 punts. He pinned the Buccaneers inside the 15 five times on Sunday. The kickoff coverage has been excellent, too. Opponents’ average starting point has been the 22.7-yard line, second-best in the league.
“You guys can feel those guys getting down there, both Keisean (Nixon) and Rudy (Ford),” LaFleur said of the punt team’s fliers. “They can cover up a lot of … mistakes in your coverage lanes, fanning the field. They forced a lot of fair catches. Obviously, Pat had an amazing day punting the football. Just their ability to get down and win their one-on-ones or win a double-team on the outside made a huge difference in our punt unit.”
The Packers led the NFL in scoring in 2020 and finished 10th in 2021, with Rodgers winning MVP honors both seasons. Through three games, the Packers are a woeful 27th with 16.0 points per game.
So much for that 31.6-point average in going 7-0 without Davante Adams the previous three seasons.
The nagging question since Adams was traded to the Raiders was whether the Packers would be able to move the chains in big moments of big games against top defenses. For the most part, it was an epic fail against the Buccaneers. Starting with the Aaron Jones goal-line fumble, Green Bay misfired on eight consecutive third downs. For added insult, all of them were third-and-manageable – situations the Packers with Rodgers have traditionally dominated.
“You look at every play and you grade every player on every play, and ultimately, we need all 11 guys playing as one,” LaFleur said. “But it was like we were just a block off here or there from springing some potentially big plays.
“It’s crazy how momentum plays such a part in it, and you sit there and you’re like, ‘All right. We can stop this. We can get this going again.’ And, for whatever reason, it didn't materialize the rest of the game. And you want to talk about frustrating. You’re sitting there scratching your head. ‘What can we call to kind of jumpstart this thing?’ When you’re not moving the ball, you’re like, ‘Well, they’re outcoaching us because we can’t get anything going.’ That’s a credit to their defensive staff and what they have on defense there. Fortunately for us, our defense and our special teams basically won the game for us. Like I told our guys, like I told you guys yesterday, we’ll never apologize for winning. Ever.”
Through two games, according to SportRadar, the Packers ranked toward the bottom of the NFL pecking order in missed tackles (fourth-most) and missed-tackle percentage (third-worst). The Packers missed only one on Sunday. That was by De’Vondre Campbell against Bucs receiver Breshad Perriman. Quay Walker rallied to the ball and forced a critical fumble.
“Our guys, they did an outstanding job,” LaFleur said. “Tampa, obviously, they were missing some key pieces that present some problems. But we can only control what we can control and our guys were flying around. You mentioned it, you miss a tackle and a guy causes a fumble. Playing in those elements and those conditions, I thought our guys were flying around. I thought our coaches did a really good job of trying to keep guys fresh. I thought that was beneficial. Because you can give max effort all the time, and that’s the expectation we have for our defense, and I think that’s the signature of any great defense. That’s where it starts: It starts with running to the football and just giving 100 percent all the time.”
With better tackling came better run defense. The longest run allowed vs. the Bucs was for just 6 yards.
Broken: Slow-Starting Defense
Coming off back-to-back powerful performances, the Packers rank sixth with 15.0 points allowed per game. Now, just imagine if they’d not forfeit the first series of every game.
On the opening series, the Packers allowed a touchdown to Minnesota, a touchdown to Chicago and a field goal to Tampa Bay. That’s 17 of the 45 points allowed through three games.
LaFleur didn’t have an immediate solution but knows his team will need to fix that problem quickly.
“We definitely have to start better, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Certainly, if you give up explosive plays, the odds of scoring are much greater. It happened the first play of the game and they got a big pass over the middle and it led to points. But I thought outside of that, for the most part for the rest of the game, I thought our defense was solid until the two-minute drive, when we got a little bit softer. I think anytime you’re playing a quarterback of that caliber, if he sees a weakness anywhere, he’s going to exploit it, and that’s what Tom did. That’s why he’s one of the greatest ever.”
In terms of points allowed by quarter, the Packers are tied for 26th in the first (17 points) but are fifth in the second (10), tied for ninth in the third (nine) and 10th in the fourth (nine).