Let’s be honest: the Green Bay Packers have not gotten off to the type of the start they wanted.
The Packers have a disappointing 3-2-1 record against a soft schedule that’s gone 14-18-1 overall (.439). Green Bay has a bye this week, then its next five games are against a group that’s a combined 20-9-1 (.683) and four of those games are on the road.
When the season began, Green Bay had the fifth-best odds to win the Super Bowl at 12-to-1 according to Bovada. Today, those odds have dropped to 22-to-1 and 11 other teams are given a greater chance to win the Super Bowl that Green Bay.
The Packers haven’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1999-2000. But if Green Bay struggles in the next month, it will become incredibly difficult for the Packers to reach the postseason.
How can Green Bay save its season when it returns to action next week? Here are five ideas.
1. Run Aaron, run
The Packers rank 17th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (103.7), but seventh in yards per carry (4.7). The biggest reason is Aaron Jones is averaging an eye-popping 5.9 yards per rush.
The problem is Packers coach Mike McCarthy has given Jones just 32 carries in the four games he’s been available (8.0). Instead, McCarthy has chosen a “job share” approach with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery also getting a fair share of work.
Green Bay hasn’t had a running back with the explosion and burst that Jones possesses since Ahman Green in the early-2000s. And if McCarthy ever decides to double Jones’ workload, Green Bay’s offense could erupt.
“Well, we’re finding our identify on offense,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We’ve still got a long ways to go with our run game … We’ve got to keep finding ways to get the ball to (Jones) in space.”
2. Move Clay Matthews inside
In 2014, Green Bay’s inside linebacking play was so dreadful through eight games that defensive coordinator Dom Capers shifted Clay Matthews — his best defensive player — from outside linebacker to the inside.
The move paid huge dividends. Green Bay ranked dead last in rushing yards per game (153.5) and yards per carry (4.8) before the move, but improved those numbers to 86.4 and 3.6 after Matthews kicked inside.
Today, Matthews is a phone-booth player, meaning he operates best in confined areas. Matthews, who has just 1.5 sacks, has lost some of his burst and explosion off the edge, as well as his athleticism in open space.
That was never more evident than Monday night when San Francisco’s Pierre Garcon caught a pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage and was a sitting duck. But Garcon made a quick move, left Matthews grabbing air and zipped past the former Pro Bowler for 15 yards.
Green Bay’s inside linebackers lack the size to hold up against the run, and the 49ers gashed the Packers for 174 rushing yards on 30 carries Monday (5.80). Moving Matthews (6-3, 255) back inside would help fix the Packers’ suspect rush defense.
3. Wake up the defense
Green Bay has allowed 100 first-half points and just 44 in the second half. Predictably, the Packers have trailed at halftime in four of their six games.
The defense has been stellar in the second half, and has allowed an NFL-low six points in the third quarter. But by the time the defense gets things figured out, the Packers have often been in a substantial hole.
“We’re in the win-now business and our guys realize that and we have to have a sense of urgency to get cleaned up what we need to get cleaned up,” said Packers first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. “The key thing is when we do make mistakes is that those get locked away and learned from.”
4. Feed the beast
After Green Bay’s offense was sluggish in a Week 4 win over Buffalo, Rodgers said this of wideout Davante Adams.
“We have to find ways to get him the ball.”
In the last two games, Rodgers has targeted Adams a whopping 28 times. The standout receiver has responded, too, with 19 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns.
Adams did his damage against Detroit Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay and San Francisco’s Jimmie Ward and Richard Sherman — who are both solid players.
Outside of Rodgers, Adams is the best thing Green Bay’s offense has going for it. And Rodgers seems hell-bent on feeding Adams as often as possible.
“When you watch him sometimes, it’s almost like he’s in glide mode,” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said of Adams. “And then all of a sudden there’s that burst, that move, that kind of extra gear that he has. That sneaky speed. I kind of kid him, he’s got something slithery about him even though he’s a big man, a big guy.
“He’s performed well, and we’re going to need him to continue to develop and continue to make plays. He does have that confidence that he doesn’t really care who he’s lining up against. If he does things the way he’s capable of, he’s going to get open. And he’s for the most part proven he can do that.”
5. Clean up your mess
The Packers rank just 22nd in red zone offense at 50.0%. In 2016, the last time Rodgers played a full season, the Packers ranked ninth (64.47%).
Green Bay is 16th in third-down conversion (40.24%), while it ranked third in 2016 (46.12%).
But perhaps most alarming is the Packers are 30th in penalties per game (8.2) and 31st in penalty yards (77.8). A year ago, Green Bay ranked ninth in penalties (6.0) and sixth in penalty yards (49.3).
“You’re not supposed to say you’re frustrated, but I’m frustrated with the penalties,” McCarthy said. “I don’t like the pattern that we’ve established in the first six weeks. That has to change and it will charge or … something’s going to need to be adjusted there because it’s been consistent and it’s an issue. It’s definitely a topic we’ll spend more time on.”