GREEN BAY — While Aaron Rodgers’ postgame vow to Matt LaFleur — “I’m going to be a lot better moving forward,” the quarterback told his coach Thursday night — was both a nice gesture and an important acknowledgment of how much he and the Green Bay Packers offense struggled last week, the two-time NFL MVP has plenty of company in the we-need-to-improve crowd.
“We, collectively — as a whole team, but specifically as an offense. Everybody needs to do better,” LaFleur said as the Packers transitioned from their 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears to prepping for their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field. “And, again, it starts with the coaches – and myself and our offensive coaches.”
It’s always preferable in the NFL to be able to focus on improvement after a victory, and even allowing for the Bears’ elite defense, the Packers certainly have plenty of improving to do: They finished the night with a paltry converted 2 of 12 third downs and saw Rodgers get sacked five times, including four series-ending third-down sacks.
Running backs Aaron Jones (13 carries, 39 yards) and Jamaal Williams (five carries, 0 net yards) found little running room, and Rodgers finished the night having completed 18 of 30 passes for 203 yards and one touchdown (91.4 quarterback rating). Of those 203 passing yards, 103 of them came on three plays: A 47-yard deep ball to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that set up Jimmy Graham’s 8-yard touchdown catch; and successive 28-yard catches by Trevor Davis and Robert Tonyan to set up the Packers’ other points, a 39-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
“I think every single person on this offense knows they should play better than that. Including myself. I know I can play better,” center Corey Linsley said Monday afternoon. “Obviously it wasn’t up to our standard, and we know that. Even though we didn’t do a good enough job, we know there’s room to grow, but these are fixable things. We need to play better, and it’ll give us more motivation to do better, but it’s not like it’s an unsolvable problem.”
The Packers’ offensive struggles went beyond a mere lack of production. One of the calling cards of LaFleur’s offensive philosophy is the ability to mix up the tempo, and Rodgers acknowledged after the game that he drained the play clock far too often against the Bears.
“That (Bears) defense is going to give a lot of teams fits. But I think stuff that we can control, I can do a better job of, (like) a little more urgency out of the huddle,” Rodgers explained. “We had a lot of snaps late. We’re trying to obviously get them to show their hand at times, but we had too many up against the clocks, a couple delays. We’ve just got to get in and out of the huddle a little bit better. That’s something that I can do better for sure.”
LaFleur insisted Monday that those issues weren’t on Rodgers alone, saying that as the play-caller he needed to help Rodgers by being more decisive with his calls.
“I think always you have to look at yourself first. Are you getting the play in in a timely fashion for the guys to get in and out of the huddle faster? It starts with me,” LaFleur said. “(I) definitely want to emphasize that urgency in and out of the huddle.
“I think just getting on the same page. You can never have enough practice at that. I’m sure, as we progress through the season, it’ll get smoother and smoother.”
The offense can help itself by being more productive on early downs. On first down, the Packers ran the ball 13 times for 28 yards. On second down, their six runs netted just 2 yards. In the passing game, Rodgers’ 47-yarder to Valdes-Scantling came on first down, but he completed only 5 of his other 10 first-down passes for only 48 yards. The two 28-yard completions were second-down plays; on Rodgers’ other 12 dropbacks on second down, he was 7 for 11 for 37 yards and was sacked once.
“We used a lot of plays from our ‘get-back-on-track’ menu. Which is never a good thing,” LaFleur said. “But we’ll look at everything. I’ll tell you this: I do think the effort’s there from our guys, and we’ve just got to continue to grind and work together to figure this thing out.”
- Matt LaFleur didn’t invite his team over to his new house for some sort of viewing party Sunday, but most of the Green Bay Packers head coach’s players spent the day doing the same thing he did: Watching the Minnesota Vikings throttle the Atlanta Falcons, 28-12.
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“Every snap,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “I was trying to scout and seeing what they were doing and how they changed stuff.”
If Clark indeed saw every snap the Vikings offense ran Sunday, then he saw them run … and run … and run … and run.
Led by No. 1 back Dalvin Cook’s 21 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns, and with rookie Alexander Mattison chipping in 39 yards on nine carries, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw just 10 passes.
“It’s crazy to see how they switched from last year,” Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez said as the Packers turned their attention to Sunday’s matchup with the Vikings at Lambeau Field. “I feel like last year they passed the ball a ton.”
Martinez’s memory wasn’t failing him. In the teams’ 29-29 tie in Week 2 last year, the Vikings’ running backs ran the ball just 14 times while Cousins dropped back 52 times, throwing 48 passes, absorbing two sacks and running twice for 5 yards.
The Vikings’ game plan figures to be somewhere in between on Sunday, but clearly Cook will be a focal point of the offense. After a torn ACL ended his rookie season after four games in 2017, he battled a myriad of injuries last season and finished the year with 133 carries for 615 yards and two touchdowns and 40 receptions for 305 yards and two more TDs.
It’s clear that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wants to run the ball often and effectively this season, to reduce the pressure on Cousins and star wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
“We know that (running the ball) is the strength of our team,” Thielen said Sunday. “We know we have one of the best running backs in the NFL, if not the best, and we know we have an offensive line that can ground and pound. We have to keep doing those things because that’s what Coach Zimmer wants our identity to be — and that’s what we’re going to make it.”
It will be interesting to see how the Packers defend the Vikings’ run-first approach, since they essentially played with only one inside linebacker – Martinez – in Thursday night’s 10-3 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. They used 3-3-5 alignment with safety Raven Greene serving as a hybrid inside linebacker/safety.
The team acquired inside linebacker B.J. Goodson in a trade with the New York Giants last week, but he wasn’t up to speed with the defense to the point where he could contribute on that side of the ball. This week, though, Goodson’s services might be needed against Cook.
“He’s a great back, a great player,” Martinez said of Cook. “I think he has the ability to do an all-around back type thing, where he’s able to go out of the backfield and make plays. He’s agile, quick, strong, everything you think of in a good back. And he still was able to break those tackles to find those extra yards.”