In a wild start to the 2016 NFL season that saw 11 out of 16 games being decided by just one score or less, the Green Bay Packers emerged victorious on the road over a young Jacksonville Jaguars team 27-23. It was a great game for fans of a good old-fashioned nail-biter and a great catalyst for cardiac arrest for those in Wisconsin who already suffer from beer and cheese-induced heart problems. Both teams battled and kept it close throughout the game with 5 different lead changes in total. In the end, it took a big defensive stand from the Packers defense to finally finish off this talented Jaguars team.
There was a lot to pay attention to and catch up on in Week 1, but here are my five big takeaways from Week 1’s action against the Jaguars:
1) Aaron Rodgers is Amazing
Some folks might say that this doesn’t need to be said, and that’s because they’re Bears fans. Aaron Rodgers’ brilliance was on display once again on Sunday, even though his stat line might not reveal that to be true. Rodgers completed 20 of his 34 passes for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also adding another touchdown on the ground on the Packers first possession. As I said, these stats don’t inherently display his brilliance, but those who watched any of the Packers scoring drives would agree that Aaron Rodgers was quite simply amazing.
Facing a very young, but highly talented Jacksonville Jaguars defense, Aaron Rodgers was able to use his creativity, arm strength, and accuracy to lead the Packers to victory. The Jaguars brought the heat nearly every possession, and nearly every time Rodgers was able to escape and make a big play. The most notable, however, occurred when the Packers were down 17-14 with 20 seconds left to go in the half. It was 3rd and 10 with the ball at the 29-yard line. The Jaguars were very clever with their pre-snap defensive coverage, calling a nickel blitz by their rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but disguising it as man-coverage in a Cover 1 alignment. When the blitz came, Rodgers stepped up in the pocket and with Ramsey holding the back of his jersey and defensive lineman Jared Odrick leaping in front of him, Aaron Rodgers was able to perfectly place the ball into the hands of Davante Adams in the end zone under heavy coverage from former Packer Davon House. It was an incredible play and was yet again, another display Aaron Rodgers’ greatness.
2) Defense: The Good and the Bad
First off, the good news. The Packers looked like a defense reborn on the Jaguars first possession of the game. They gave up a quick first down, but forced a turnover on just the fifth play of the game when Marqise Lee bobbled a pass that eventually landed in the arms of Packers linebacker Joe Thomas. It was a promising sight to see from this defense, especially considering they were in the bottom half of the league in takeaways last season. On the ground, the Packers were able to hold former Alabama star TJ Yeldon to just 39 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown, while also forcing a trio of sacks against Blake Bortles.
What the Packers really struggled with on Sunday was holding off a furious Jaguars passing attack. Blake Bortles threw for 320 yards, nearly half of which went to the so-called “Allen Brothers”. Both Allens – that is Robinson and Hurns – had over 70 yards receiving, while tight end Julius Thomas added another 64 yards himself. This talented Jaguars receiving core was a constant nuisance to the Packers defense, as the Packers were ineffective at stopping the Jaguars on 3rd and 4th down. Bortles was fantastic in his own right and looked comfortable in the pocket for much of the game, en route to his 300+ yard game.
In the end, it took a huge defensive stop from the Packers on 4th and 1 to finish off these Jaguars.
3) Slimmed Down Lacy
Looks like all that P90X training is paying off. Eddie Lacy had a solid game against the Jaguars on Sunday, rushing for 61 yards on 14 carries and adding another 17 through the air on a screen pass where it looked like no one would take him down. Lacy looked like his 2013 self all over again in Jacksonville, as he appeared much more patient, mobile, and explosive in the backfield than he did all of last season.
This is huge for the Packers offense. When Eddie Lacy plays like he is capable of playing and keeps his weight in check, he is a shifty and powerful back who adds an additional element to the Packers already dangerous offense. With a healthy Eddie Lacy, the Packers are able to keep their opponents honest by forcing them to consider the run, which makes each of their other weapons that much more dangerous. Not to mention, a solid running game allows a team to control the clock. A 61-yard game isn’t considered to be great for a running back in the NFL, but if the Packers can consistently get 60+ yards out of Eddie Lacy, they have a pretty good shot at notching another victory each week.
4) The Return of Jordy Nelson
As we all know, the first game of the 2016 NFL season for the Green Bay Packers marked the return of Jordy Nelson – the first time he’s seen action since the Packers second preseason game of the 2015 season. It was a highly-anticipated season debut for the Packers, as they certainly missed him last year. After having finished in the top 10 in total yards the previous two seasons, the Packers finished a measly 23rd in 2015, leaving Packers fans to wonder what if? Though Jordy Nelson’s absence was not the only reason the Packers offense faltered last year, it certainly had a much larger impact than most would have expected.
Luckily, Nelson’s rehabilitation for his torn ACL seemed to go extremely well, as many new reports throughout last season pointed out how far ahead he was in his recovery. It certainly seemed like it in Week 1. While Nelson did not show-off his big play ability against the Jaguars, he still had 6 receptions for a respectable 32 yards and a touchdown. I imagine the Packers plan on getting him more involved in the vertical offense in the near future and just wanted to get him some quality reps after not playing the entire preseason.
5) Sam Shields’ Injury and Week 2 Impact
Sam Shields left in the final quarter of Sunday’s game after sustaining what has been diagnosed as a concussion. Per Rob Demovsky of ESPN, Shields is in the NFL’s concussion protocol and has been downgraded to doubtful for this weekend’s game. For Shields, it is his fourth concussion since entering the league in 2010 and already his second since January.
For the Packers, this means that Quinten Rollins will likely be taking over the starting role alongside fellow 2015 draftee Damarious Randall. Rollins was benched in favor of backup LaDarius Gunter for a period of time against the Jaguars after consistently being beat by the likes of Julius Thomas, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Rollins is a quality defensive back however, receiving the 22nd-highest grade at his position by Pro Football Focus in 2015. It will be interesting to see how he, and the rest of these young defensive backs respond next week against the Vikings in their home opener after a rough start to the 2016 season.