Five reasons not to panic about Green Bay Packers (again)
From Sporting News Vincent Iyer
~No matter how many times Aaron Rodgers tells Packers fans to R-E-L-A-X, there’s always a R-E-L-A-P-S-E.
Green Bay fell to only 1-1 with Sunday night’s tough 17-14 loss at reigning NFC North champion Minnesota, but Rodgers still had to remind everyone the cheese wasn’t melting after the game.
“We’re not going to overreact,” Rodgers told reporters. “It’s been two weeks. We haven’t quite found our rhythm yet, but we had some guys working in who hadn’t worked a lot together so we trust the process and believe we can get this thing turned around.”
There are least five great reasons to trust Rodgers, too.
The offense is a promising work in progress. This isn’t the mess of 2015 when Jordy Nelson’s knee injury sent ripples through the whole receiving corps, the offensive line was in shambles and Eddie Lacy was a few cheeseburgers heavier. This also isn’t the well-oiled scoring juggernaut that Rodgers has operated in the past, but it can get there.
Through two games, Nelson is on his way to returning to full speed as an elite No. 1, and Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have settled back into their complementary wideout roles. The two new key starters, left guard Lane Taylor and tight end Jared Cook, are learning to mesh with the rest. Lacy has looked like his old power self, and has earned the right to get his bigger workload back after two solid games with limited volume. At some point, the Packers will get more of their receiving depth involved.
Rodgers is too smart to not readjust his game. Rodgers typically is a lot more secure with the ball, and despite the continued pressure on him, there are flashes of protection in key situations to think it will be more consistent when the line fully has cohesion. The Packers also have shown good signs with their third-down and red zone efficiencies. What also was lost in the limited stats against a swarming Vikings defense was how many cheap penalty yards Rodgers got by targeting Trae Waynes — before that interception.
He’s too talented, too. The gaudiness of Rodgers’ numbers aren’t there yet, but his grittiness never goes away. He knows he has to find the right blend of his athletic improvisation to make big plays and quick delivery on short to intermediate ones. There are ridiculous expectations for Rodgers to zip it and move the ball because of what he has done in the past. Rodgers already is very good at his “worst,” and with a stronger supporting cast, there’s not much he needs to do to return to his elite best.
The defense will keep them in position to win any game. The Packers entrusted young inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez to shore things up. So far, they have stuffed the run better than any team in the league. They just rendered Adrian Peterson into a non-factor before he was hurt. Because they are better at winning those early downs, it’s revved up Clay Mathews and the pass rush on third downs.
Matthews no longer is needed to clean up the mess in the middle, and is back to wreaking pure edge havoc. That formula is bound to raise the takeaway quotient given how many playmakers the Packers have on the back end, led by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The shorter fields are coming to assist the offense.
They haven’t even played at Lambeau Field yet. The reward for opening with two grinders on the road are four straight games in Green Bay, with a bye in between. That gives the Packers a chance to make some early personnel and scheme tuneups and get on a nice winning streak before midseason.
“We kind of have an awkward schedule here,” Rodgers said. “We have a game next week at home, a bye, and then three at home. We have to find our rhythm here as we head back home.”
Their schedule overall is still cake. As a reminder, the Packers have the “easiest” 2016 slate in the NFL, based on their opponents’ combined winning percentage (.457) from last season. Playing at the Vikings was the most daunting matchup. Their hardest two remaining games are against the Texans and the Seahawks, and both of those are at Lambeau to open December in Weeks 13 and 14. They weren’t that far from finishing at Minnesota, and then the conversation would have been about running the table than running on empty.
Take those five and chill. The Packers are set up to be a lot stronger in the end than the beginning, and that’s what really matters.
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