From the other side: Four questions about the Packers

Former Rams OC Matt LaFleur has built Packers into SB contender
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What can the Los Angeles Rams expect on offense and defense from the 13-3 Green Bay Packers?

To get a better feel for how former Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has made the Packers into Super Bowl contenders, we checked in with Packer Central publisher Bill Huber for his answers on these four key questions.

You can check out Huber’s coverage of the Packers here.

1. How has head coach Matt LaFleur changed the offense to get the most out of Aaron Rodgers?

Huber: There are a lot of things. In no particular order, they’ve built a reliable running game, run a lot of play-action passes that mirror those runs, use a lot of bootlegs and incorporated a lot of motion and jet-sweep action. Those are a few of the reasons why Rodgers has had a lot of open receivers this season. You know – all the things the Rams do under Sean McVay.

The offense was literally no better in 2019 (the first season under LaFleur) than 2018 (the final season under Mike McCarthy). The team scored exactly the same number of points. While COVID-19 wiped out the offseason program, LaFleur, his staff and Rodgers made the best of the Zoom calls by fine-tuning the scheme. What did LaFleur like that Rodgers felt comfortable running? What did Rodgers like that LaFleur could incorporate into the scheme? It’s been a collaborative effort to make this the top-scoring team in the NFL and perhaps give Rodgers his third MVP award.

Finally, Rodgers numerous times has referenced something he spotted when he fired up some decade-old film. He’s never spoken in specifics but my hunch is it’s something fundamentals-related because he’s been really accurate.

2. What did the Packers struggle with in their three losses to the Bucs, Vikings and Colts this year?

Huber: Against Tampa Bay, it was the speed of linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David. The Packers led 10-0, Rodgers threw a pick-six and another interception and, before you knew it, it was 38-10. The Packers never crossed midfield in the final three quarters. Of note, the Bucs’ pass rush got after Rodgers. Left tackle David Bakhtiari missed a big chunk of that game after suffering broken ribs. Bakhtiari is out now with a torn ACL.

Against Minnesota, it was a miserably windy day. With the teams forced to run the football, Dalvin Cook scored four touchdowns. That was a turning point for the defense, which has played much better against the run.

Against Indianapolis, the offense went into a 25-minute coma in the second half.

Common tie: The offense has gone in a few prolonged funks and the defense hasn’t been able to pick up the slack. Clearly, the Rams are capable of playing that type of lights-out defense, as well.

3. How has Davante Adams grown as a receiver since his arrival in Green Bay?

Huber: Two things. One, it’s his connection with Rodgers. They are of one mind, much like Rodgers and Jordy Nelson in their heyday. This is how Rodgers put it a couple weeks ago: “I think just the more that we give him, the more we get out. The more latitude that we give him within the offense, the more production we have. He’s not a paper football kind of guy. He’s not an Xs and Os kind of guy. … The ability to have a deep route or a short route based on his feel of the leverage and a defender on him, he’s just one of those special guys where literally the more that we have given him, the more production that we’ve seen.” That only works if Adams and Rodgers are seeing the play the same way.

Two, he’s caught the ball better than ever. With below-average hand size, he’s had a tendency to drop the ball over the years. This season, of 55 receivers targeted at least 75 times, Adams tied for No. 1 in drop rate, according to Pro Football Focus.

4. What’s been the key to Green Bay’s success defensively?

Huber: They’ve played much better run defense down the stretch. It hasn’t been dominant but it’s been pretty good, meaning a lot fewer third-and-shorts. They bottled up Tennessee’s Derrick Henry in Week 16 and stuffed Chicago’s David Montgomery in Week 17, so the confidence is high.

Second, the red-zone defense has been astounding the last three games. After giving up three touchdowns in four red-zone possessions at Detroit in Week 14, the Packers were a woeful 28th with a red-zone touchdown percentage of 67.5. However, the Packers allowed 1-of-5 vs. Carolina, 1-of-2 vs. Tennessee and 1-of-5 vs. Chicago. That combined 3-of-12 sent them soaring to an eighth-ranked 57.7 percent.

Bend-but-don’t-break defenses sound good when it’s working. But what happens against a hot quarterback or elite runner? That’s the question.