Episode 141 - Week 16 Preview: Packers Battling Details

A big play by Jordy Nelson was a key moment in the last Packers/Jets game.

A big play by Jordy Nelson was a key moment in the last Packers/Jets game.

I heard a quote a couple weeks ago that’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. It went something like this: more often than not, it’s not one big thing that crashes an airplane. It’s a bunch of little things all at once.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat writer Jim Owczarski used that quote to illustrate the issues with the Packers at some point during the latter half of this disappointing season, and I think it’s supremely accurate.

Even now, it’s hard to point to just one thing that’s wrong with this team. Sure, you can point to just one thing, but it’s not the only thing and it’s surely not the one thing that’s prevented the Packers from reaching their potential. It’s been a flurry of tiny cuts that have killed the Packers. A million little details all adding up into one long slog of a season.

I’ve thought about that idea a lot with the Jets on the schedule this week, because there’s a great Packers/Jets game that shows how good a team can be when it takes care of all the little things.

Turn back in your minds to 2010 and think with me about the Packers’ Week 8 game against the Jets. The Packers ended up winning the game 9-0 on the heels of a tremendous defensive effort. You have to be a pretty good team to win 9-0, and in 2010, the Packers were a very good team.

Their offense wasn’t great that day, but it got enough points to win. More importantly, they didn’t do anything to help the other team win, which has far too often been a problem with the 2018 Packers.

Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense that day was spectacular. In a game where they had no margin for error, the defense suffocated Mark Sanchez and the Jets all afternoon, forcing three turnovers and allowing just one drive of longer than 50 yards.

The 2018 Packers could never win a game like that. This year’s team has had too many things going wrong all season long to ever get enough details under control at once. They’ve allowed themselves to constantly be bogged down by little things, so much so that when a big mistake finally does happen, it proves to be the killing blow.

Just for example, think of the Packers’ 29-27 loss to the Rams this year. Ty Montgomery’s fumble is the headlining mistake in that game, but a culmination of little issues put the Packers in position to lose. A first half safety immediately jumps out, but digging a little deeper, you find other troubling problems. The Packers had two key three and outs in the second half, including one drive where they had a second and five but couldn’t convert. The list goes on.

The point is this: the Packers are where they are because of details. That’s what crashed the plane this year. Whoever the coach is next season and beyond won’t have to fix one big thing, but he’ll have his hands extremely full trying to put out all the little fires plaguing the Packers.

Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game

1 - If the Packers win out this season, they’ll finish the year with seven wins. That’s bad by the Packers standards, but I think a lot of Jets fans would take seven wins.

Why’s that? Because the Jets have won seven or more games just once in the past five seasons. That’s a good reminder of two things. One, it could almost always be worse in Green Bay. And two, picking near the top of the draft isn’t always a solution to the problems with your football team. The Jets are living proof. They’ve picked inside the top ten four times since 2013.

2 - Quarterback Sam Darnold is the most recent high draft pick in New York, and it’s been a boom or bust season for the rookie. He has as many games this year with a passer rating below 40 as he does with a passer rating above 100, posting three of each in his 11 starts in 2018. Overall, it’s resulted in a pretty uninspiring stat line. He’s completed just 56.7% of his passes and has thrown 14 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.

3 - Nobody would confuse the Jets with a defensive juggernaut this year, but they’re getting interceptions at a fairly decent rate. The picks are coming on key downs, too. Five of the team’s 13 interceptions this year have come on third downs. And while the Jets aren’t exactly pass rush specialists, they do a good job of taking down quarterbacks in key situations. 20 of their 34 sacks have come on third down plays.

4 - With the playoffs out of reach, the Packers really only have personal milestones to play for. Fortunately, Davante Adams is in range of some big ones. He’s already passed 1000 yards for the season and broke through the 1,300 yard threshold last week against the Bears. His 2018 effort is just the 10th 1,300 yard season in Packers history, and it’s not at all unrealistic to think that Adams could end up having the best receiving yardage season the team has ever seen. Adams needs just 109 yards over the next two games to tie Antonio Freeman for fourth-most in team history.

If he manages to get 205 yards over the next two games, he’ll surpass Jordy Nelson’s 2014 mark of 1,519 yards, the current single-season record. On the year, Adams is averaging 93.9 yards per game, a little below the pace if he wants to pass Nelson.

5 - There are some high level connections between the Packers and Jets, namely a few Jets personnel with deep ties to Green Bay. Alonzo Dotson spent five seasons and six drafts in the Packers’ front office, leaving after this spring’s draft to take a position as an area scout with the Jets. He’s the nephew of former Packers defensive lineman Santana Dotson, who won a Super Bowl with the Packers in 1996.

New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles has a Super Bowl ring from that very game. He was a scouting assistant with the Packers in 1995 and 1996.

Also in the category of former Packers Super Bowl winners is New York Jets outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene, who held the same job with the Packers between 2009 and 2013.

Finally, Jets offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates is the son of former Packers defensive coordinator Jim Bates. The elder Bates ran the Packers’ defense in 2005.

What Young Player Should We Watch This Week?

I have resisted dropping his name in this segment, but I can do so no longer. It’s time to talk about Robert Tonyan.

Look, the Packers’ tight end group has been a huge disappointment this year. Jimmy Graham has no more than two healthy limbs remaining thanks to knee and thumb injuries. Marcedes Lewis can’t get a pass thrown his way to save his life. Lance Kendricks is a completely known quantity.

Why not see what Tonyan can do? He’s averaged 8 snaps per game over the last three weeks. It’s time to bump that up to 20 to 30. It’s not like he’s going to be that much more ineffective than what’s already been out there. And even if he is… who cares?

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Jets Played?

The Packers last faced the Jets in 2014, when New York traveled to Lambeau Field for a Week 2  matchup. For most of the game, it looked like there was an upset in the making. Geno Smith started hot, running in one touchdown and throwing another as the Jets built a 21-3 lead shortly into the second quarter.

But then the rally started. Two Mason Crosby field goals cut the lead to 12, then Aaron Rodgers found Randall Cobb for a score just before the half. Midway through the second quarter, Rodgers connected with Cobb again, then found Cobb for the two-point conversion to put Green Bay up 24-21.

The Jets tied the game on their next drive, but it took the Packers all of one play to get back on top. An 80-yard catch and run by Jordy Nelson put the Packers up for good, completing what was at the time the largest comeback of Aaron Rodgers’ career.

One of the players Nelson beat on the play was Jets first round pick Calvin Pryor, a safety who was thought to be of interest to the Packers. Pryor and HaHa Clinton-Dix were considered two of the top safeties in their draft class, and with a weakness at safety that spring, the Packers were viewed as a prime landing spot for both players. It’s interesting to note that five years later, neither Pryor or Clinton-Dix is with the team that drafted them. Pryor is out of the league altogether.

Who’s Going to Win?

The Packers should win, but would anyone be surprised if they don’t?

I don’t want to think that way, but that’s where this season has gone to. So let’s say it this way: I hope the Packers will win, and my prediction is going to follow my hope. The Packers will put everything together and give us the Christmas gift of a feel good win. Packers 38, Jets 7. Believe it!

Survey Updates

Our voters this week are only slightly more confident than last week that the Packers will win. The win confidence rate in our weekly poll is just 61.25%, exactly two percent higher than people felt about the Bears game.

Overall, this reflects the continued downward trend for people's’ feelings about the Packers. After a brief bounce due to the Mike McCarthy firing, confidence rates for all Packers figures are dropping, none more than Aaron Rodgers. His weighted approval rating is just 48% this week, by far his lowest mark of the season. For comparison, the final approval rating for Mike McCarthy was 43%.

Maybe that’s part of the reason so many people want Rodgers to sit down for the last two games. We asked voters if they thought Rodgers should sit the last two weeks of the regular season, and 57% said yes.

One Last Thought

Lost in the shuffle of this downward spiraling season has been the astonishingly limited role for rookie linebacker Oren Burks. An athletic, seemingly versatile third round pick, Burks has been firmly behind Antonio Morrison on the depth chart and in playing time all this season. He’s played just ten snaps on defense total in the Packers’ last six games, never seeing the field for even a single down in four of those six games.

But that could be changing this week. In his Thursday press conference, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said “He’s been ready, and I think he’ll definitely see some time this weekend.”

How much time remains to be seen, but it appears that the Packers could be ready to take a look at a young defensive player they’ve largely kept under wraps this year.

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