Packers midseason grades: Plenty of room for improvement after disappointing first eight weeks
The Green Bay Packers' first half of the 2022 NFL season can be labeled as nothing but underwhelming, and the overarching reason is the team's half-measures both offensively and defensively.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL's back-to-back MVP, was given a three-year, $150 million contract extension, but there weren't significant moves for veteran pass-catching talent to offset the departure of All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams. The Packers pinned all their hopes on the three rookies they drafted, Allen Lazard in a bigger role, and Sammy Watkins and Randall Cobb staying healthy. Yet, the Packers haven't committed to running back Aaron Jones as their focal point. His 575 rushing yards rank fifth in the NFL with a 5.9 yards per carry average (fifth-best in the NFL among running backs), but they run the ball on only 40% of their plays, the 17th-highest rate in the league.
Defensively, the Packers invested in cornerbacks whose specialty is man coverage in Jaire Alexander (four years, $84 million) and Rasul Douglas (three years, $21 million) in addition to linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (five years, $50 million) this offseason, but the team lines up in zone 68% of the time.
Below are the Packers' grades through the first half of the season on offense, defense, special teams, coaching and, finally, as a team overall.
The Packers are 3-5, the worst eight-game start to a season during Rodgers' tenure as Green Bay's quarterback, and they are currently stuck in a four-game losing streak, which is tied for the second-longest losing streak in the Rodgers era. The offense's lack of production is arguably the biggest reason for the Packers' slide across the last month, with their 18.1 points per game ranking as the worst to start a season through eight games for a Rodgers-led offense. It's even the Packers' lowest scoring output through the first eight games since the 1992 season, Hall of Famer Brett Favre's first in Green Bay.
Rodgers hasn't been able to get on the same page with his pass-catchers all season: the Packers have zero players with over 400 receiving yards through the first eight games of a season for the first time since 2003. The lack of trust, chemistry, and connection has shown itself in Rodgers' decline when throwing outside the numbers, a place he used to thrive when throwing back-shoulder to Adams.
Historically, if you give Rodgers time to throw and a clean pocket, it's lights out for the opposing defense. However, Rodgers is 30th in yards per attempt with more than 2.5 seconds to throw and no pressure this season after leading the entire NFL a year ago when he won his fourth MVP trophy.
The other issue is an identity crisis. For years, the Packers were built around Rodgers' precision passing. Now, the team's best playmakers are running backs: Pro Bowler Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, nicknamed "Quadzilla". Rodgers himself acknowledged their importance Tuesday on "The Pat McAfee Show".
"Those two guys are so reliable, they really are," Rodgers said. "You love going to battle with those guys because they're so sharp, so smart, and they never go down on the first guy. You watch some of the runs that 33 [Jones] makes for a guy that weighs under 200 pounds, they are just outstanding. ... His ability to slip off blocks, he's never really down, you can never count him out. Twenty-eight [Dillon] running behind his pads, has some of the best hands on the team, catches the ball well. You love playing with those guys, you really do."
However, Jones' rushing attempt numbers had declined in each of the first three games of Green Bay's four-game losing streak. Last week, the Packers decided playing keep away from Josh Allen and the Bills was their path to victory, so Jones had a season-high 20 carries and 143 rushing yards, his most since the 2020 season. The Packers didn't win, but they were finally able to connect for two deep touchdowns to their rookie receivers Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure. Rodgers still seems hesitant to commit to that style of play, but funneling the offense through their backs likely remains Green Bay's best path out of their current slog.
"I think we're trying to figure it out still [on offense]," Rodgers said Tuesday to McAfee. "We can rush for 200, but if you lose by two scores, that doesn't exactly equate to saying 'Well, that's what we need to do each week.'"
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry has been unable to make the unit greater than the sum of its parts, with the team ranking 16th in scoring defense (21.6 PPG allowed), 29th in rushing defense (141.3 rushing yards per game allowed) and 20th in missed tackle percentage (11.7%).
In the name of fairness, Green Bay's defense is the second-best third-down defense in the NFL, allowing a conversion of 29.9% this season. That figure is directly connected to the Packers allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game (174.8) this season as well as the fewest per game in the league on third down (26.9). However, the Packers don't get to third down enough because they allow 128.9 rushing yards per game on first and second downs this season, the third-most in the entire NFL.
Rumors have emerged regarding players questioning play-calling and game plans in Green Bay. Alexander, the NFL's highest-paid cornerback on an annual basis ($21 million per year), voiced his displeasure with not being given the opportunity to shadow Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson in the Packers' 23-7 season-opening loss. In the Packers' 27-17 loss at the Buffalo Bills on "Sunday Night Football" last week, receiver Stefon Diggs caught six of eight targets for 108 receiving yards and a touchdown. Alexander aligned across from the No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis on 61% of his' routes, according to Next Gen Stats. Alexander had an interception and did not allow Davis to catch a pass on the four targets where he was the closest defender.
LaFleur didn't refute that some of his defensive players may not appreciate their usage this season.
"Well, first of all, it's impossible to please everybody," LaFleur said. "Everybody has their own opinions, their own ideas. ... You have to get the staff on the same page, first and foremost, in making sure that everybody is confident in the plan and then you teach it to the players."
However, the Packers head coach did acknowledge that being ranked 20th in missed tackle percentage (11.7%) and tied for 14th in explosive plays allowed (53) isn't going to get the job done.
"I think from a consistency standpoint, way too many explosive gains, some poor tackling," LaFleur said. "I think we need to be more physical. I think you look at the teams that are toughest to deal with in this league, especially from a defensive standpoint and physicality, it jumps out to you. There were moments where we're not always getting that."
Special teams: D
After a blocked field goal and blocked punt returned for a touchdown played a critical role in the Packers 13-10 NFC Divisional Round defeat against the San Francisco 49ers season, LaFleur hired the most sought-after special teams coach this past offseason, former Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia. The results have been mixed, but they have scraped by to earn a passable grade in comparison to last year's disaster.
Kicker Mason Crosby has drilled eight of his 10 field goals this season with the only miss on a kick that wasn't blocked coming on a 55-yard attempt in Week 8 in Buffalo. Green Bay is also one of only two teams to have a punt blocked this season, joining the defending Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams (two). However, its blocked punt allowed was a big one since the New York Jets took it all the way back for a touchdown in a 27-10 Green Bay defeat.
Wide receiver Amari Rodgers has three fumbles on punt returns this season, tied for the most in the NFL with New York Giants wide receiver Richie James. However, when Rodgers does field the ball cleanly, the Packers have an average starting field position of their own 33-and-a-half, the fifth-best in the NFL. It's a mixed bag for Green Bay but enough to pass.
"We had so many mental errors and mistakes," Rodgers said on his Oct. 25 appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" following the Packers loss at the Washington Commanders in Week 7. "It's not the kind of football we're used to playing over the years. There have definitely been seasons where we average four or five, six, maybe seven at the most, kind of mental errors or missed assignments per week. ... This season there's a lot more of that every single week. It's double digits every single week. ... Guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn't be playing. ... Got to start cutting some reps, and maybe guys who aren't playing, give them a chance."
When the face of your franchise goes off about a team's mental mistakes as well as the wrong guys playing, that's a direct indictment on LaFleur and his coaching staff. Rodgers maintains his relationship with LaFleur is better than it has ever been in their fourth season together and that may be true personally. But his comments like the ones above after what was their third straight loss tell a different story.
Between the running backs not getting enough carries on offense and the team's defensive personnel not being adequately utilized, it's been a difficult first eight games.
All that being said, there is still time for the Packers to turn things around since the 2022 NFL season is one marked by parity: 26 of the NFL's 32 franchises have at least three wins, tied with the 2018 season for the fourth-most teams with at least three wins through the first eight weeks of a season all-time. No one is truly out of contention yet. However, the Packers need to right their ship ASAP starting in Week 9 at the Detroit Lions, the NFL's worst scoring (32.1 PPG allowed) and total (421.3 total YPG allowed) defense.
"I don't know what the blueprint is going to be, but I will say this: when you're in a rut, sometimes it just takes one," Rodgers said. "It just takes that one game to remind you who you are and what you're capable of. Once you get that one, everyone can take a breath and relax. Now we've reset and we can get going. We were hoping it wasn't going to get to a four-game streak, but we have an opportunity against a division opponent on the road [Detroit Lions] to have that feeling, take that breath, and hopefully have that reset and put some things together." Read More