It seems as if the Packers are in the business of frustrating the fanbase at times. Week 1 went from frustration to heroics. Week 2 went from hype to hysteria. Week 3 went… badly. After close games through the first two weeks, that Packers were beaten thoroughly by the Washington Redskins and moved to 1-1-1 on the season, a peak .500 record. Here’s what I know.
1. Just let Clay play
You have to feel bad for Clay Matthews the past two weeks. His two most impactful plays were stripped from him by unbelievable penalty calls. The two roughing the passer penalties were called when Clay was hitting quarterbacks cleanly, not trying to hurt them.The body weight rule that Clay was flagged for is absurd. The rule states, in part, “a defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw him down and land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive player’s arms and not land on the passer.” The key word there seems to be unnecessarily. It’s difficult to imagine how else a defender could reasonably be expected to tackle Alex Smith when in Clay’s position Sunday. I get it, we don’t want quarterbacks to get hurt than they already do, but you can’t sacrifice the integrity of the game to protect a position.
2. Don’t change for change’s sake
Speaking of the formerly mentioned rule change, the changes in the NFL recently are largely improper. Evolution and adaptation make creatures better fit for their environment. The helmet rules are an example of proper evolution of NFL rules. Studies have shown that head injuries have serious, long term impacts on players at all levels. For that reason, head-to-head collisions should be removed from the game as much as possible. The roughing the passer rules don’t seem to be a natural evolution of the game for positive reasons, however. Increasingly, rule changes have been in the favor of offenses. Protecting quarterbacks and moving the average scores ever higher. The thing is, we all loved football before offenses were as prolific. We don’t want to watch games were flags are constantly thrown on seemingly clean tackles, it hurts the game. The reason for the rule change is obvious, healthy quarterbacks means more profits for the league. Players get hurt in all sports, that’s the name of the game. Jimmy Garappolo tore his ACL on a run, it happens. None of us want to see Aaron Rodgers break his collarbone on a hit, but we also don’t want to see the game we adore destroyed by detrimental, game deciding penalties.
3. Up and down defense
Okay, now that I’m off my roughing the passer soap box we can talk about the defense. For the most part, the Mike Pettine led defense has been a positive in Green Bay. That didn’t hold true in the first half of Sunday’s contest, as the Redskins ran up and down the field to the tune of 28 first half points. The team responded well though, holding Washington to just three second half points and giving the offense a chance. They aren’t perfect, but they inspire far more confidence than they did in years past.
4. Wilkerson is done
Muhammad Wilkerson was a big addition in the offseason, signing a one-year “prove it” deal with Green Bay. His year comes to an end after a disappointing three games that saw him record a total of five tackles. He suffered a horrific ankle injury that led to him being hospitalized overnight on Sunday and forced him to undergo surgery on Monday. Fortunately for us, Dean Lowry will be capable as a replacement and Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels have been phenomenal through three weeks.
5. Rough day for Brice
Brice took L’s early and often Sunday. The deep touchdown the Packers let up on the first drive of the game was Brice’s fault. He had inside coverage and let the ball drift right over his head. This after he failed to defend the game tying touchdown to Adam Thielen late in the fourth quarter against the Vikings. Brice packs a punch as a tackler and is a tremendous run defender, but his pass defense leaves a lot to be desired. Here’s hoping Josh Jones returns soon and looks better in the pass game.
6. Welcome Bashaud
The Packers splashed into the free agent market to grab Bashaud Breeland on Tuesday. Breeland had agreed to a three-year, $24 million contract with the Panthers in March but failed his physical and as a result went unsigned. He’s a talented cornerback and were it not for Josh Jackson, Jaire Alexander, and Breeland’s late signing he’d likely be a starter in Green Bay. He’s started nearly 60 games in his four years with the Redskins, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. He’s still just 26 years old and has averaged 15 pass breakups per season over the course of his career, with a career-high 19 breakups last year. By comparison, Damarious Randall led the Packers with nine passes defensed in 2017. Breeland joins the team with Davon House going to injured reserve. The team decided against bringing in safety Eric Reid as well (Reid signed with the Panthers on Thursday), but that’s a complaint for another piece.
7. Catch the ball (please?)
It’s hard not to wonder how different Sunday’s game might have been if it hadn’t rained. It seemed as though the rain played no impact on the Redskins but crushed the Packers. Several drives ended because players dropped passes. Be it Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, or Lance Kendricks, several potential scoring drives came to a crashing halt. The team couldn’t hold momentum or turn the tide of the game. Here’s hoping they spend more than a little bit of time on the jugs machine this week.
8. Aaron Jones is RB 1
I and many other Packer fans were disappointed to hear Mike McCarthy say that Aaron Jones would come in as running back No. 3 against the Redskins. Jones is a talented back, and the best ball carrier the team has. He only carried the ball six times but ran for 42 yards. He has a burst and a vision that can’t be taught. He’s not a great pass protector, but he needs the ball more. Period.
In truth, the entire team needs to run the ball more. Jones, Jamal Williams, and Ty Montgomery combined for 87 yards on just 15 carries, that’s 5.8 yards per carry. When Rodgers is dinged up and our guys can’t catch, why on Earth are we not letting our talented trio run to daylight? Jones should be the starter, and all the backs should be getting more touches.
9. Can we please protect Rodgers?
This goes out to the NFL and the offensive line. Rodgers was sacked four times on Sunday, as the offensive line struggled to protect the team’s most valuable player. I railed against the roughing the passer rules earlier, but I’ll add this, call the rule fairly. Against the Vikings, both Green Bay and Minnesota had the rule applied equally. The Redskin players picked Rodgers up and slammed him into the turf, landing on him in the process, and receive no flags. Some of the hits on Rodgers were far more egregious than the Matthews hit and received no play. If you’re going to call those God-awful rules, at least call them on everybody.
10. Bills in town Week 4
Buffalo may not be the cake walk we thought they’d be after two weeks. They walked into Minnsota’s stadium in Week 3 and handily beat the Vikings. There’s reason to believe both the Packers and the Vikings came out slow in their most recent games after a 70 minute slugfest on a sunny, humid, 80+ degree day in Green Bay that left the teams mentally and physically exhausted. The Packers need to right the ship, and a strong game against the Bills next Sunday affords them the chance to do exactly that.