You know about Aaron Rodgers? What, though, about the rest of the Green Bay Packers? Let’s learn more about Sunday’s opponent for the New York Giants in our ‘five questions’ segment. Jason B. Hirschhorn of SB Nation’s Acme Packing Company answers our questions.
Ed: What are your thoughts on Matt LaFleur’s first year as an NFL head coach?
Jason: It remains too early to fully assess Matt LaFleur as a head coach. Early in the year, the offense struggled while the defense, run by returning defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, performed at a high level. In late October, the offense hit another gear, with Aaron Rodgers and company playing some of their best football since the peak of the Mike McCarthy era. Meanwhile, the defense regressed to the bottom half of the league.
Both units have settled somewhere in between those extremes over the last month. The offense looks dangerous but flawed, rolling up 73 points in back-to-back weeks then scoring just 11 against the Chargers. The defense continues to generate pressure at a high rate, but the takeaways have disappeared lately.
All of which to say, LaFleur and his team remain a work in progress. He has done enough to inspire hope and offered evidence that he lacks the refinement of his coaching peers.
Ed: Have you come up with a cool nickname yet for the edge-rushing duo of Preston and Za’Darius Smith?
Jason: The Packers have rolled with “Super Smith Brothers,” a play off the classic N64 game with a similar name. That name doesn’t seem particularly inspired to me, but I don’t have another one at the ready.
While not a nickname, I think everyone would enjoy if the team played “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” by the Smiths every time Za’Darius or Preston register a sack or make a big play.
Ed: What has surprised you the most about the Packers so far this season, in either a positive or negative way?
Jason: The defense is probably the answer to both parts of that question. I certainly didn’t anticipate that the Packers would get off to such a strong start defensively, exiting Week 6 with the seventh ranked defense by DVOA. While the unit seemed likely to improve given the offseason additions of Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage, and others, such a leap came as a surprise.
Naturally, such an impressive start created expectations for the rest of the season, and the defense has failed to live up to them. Currently, the unit ranks 22nd in DVOA after giving up 37 points last Sunday to a decent but far from elite 49ers offense. Injuries haven’t even played that large of a role in the decline, with only hybrid safety Raven Greene missing significant time so far this year. Perhaps the unit improves over the final five games, but it appears unlikely it will return to its early season play.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants roster NOT NAMED SAQUON BARKLEY and put him in Green Bay’s lineup who would it be? Why?
Jason: In truth, I would not have chosen Saquon Barkley. Though he remains a fantastically talented, versatile running back and probably the best player on the Giants, the Packers already have Aaron Jones on the roster. Jones’ 981 yards from scrimmage rank in the top 10 for running backs and his 14 total touchdowns trail only Christian McCaffrey’s 16. Jones has grown into a lead back and become a fixture in the passing game. Adding Barkley would just create a redundancy.
The lack of a slot receiver has hindered the Packers this year. While they rotate players in that spot, Geronimo Allison has seen the lion’s share of the slot snaps this year with little to show for it. A player like Sterling Shepard or Golden Tate would lift Green Bay’s offense and take some pressure off of Davante Adams, currently the only reliable wide receiver on the roster.
Ed: The Giants should not win this game on Sunday. If they are going to, or at least going to have a chance to, what are they going to have to accomplish?
Jason: The Packers have more talent on both sides of the ball and more to play for at this stage of the season, but sometimes those ingredients lead to flat performances and careless play. Should that happen, the Giants need to take advantage and force some turnovers. Easier said than done, obviously, but I can’t see Green Bay losing if they take care of the football and keep Rodgers upright.