The Buffalo Bills welcome the Green Bay Packers to Highmark Stadium for a primetime matchup courtesy of Sunday Night Football. At the beginning of the season, this game was billed as one of the league’s best—but sometimes truth is stranger than prediction. The Packers are in the throes of team chaos, unable to move the ball on offense with any sort of rhythm. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is beyond unhappy, and he’s letting anyone within earshot know exactly how he feels. But what’s really at the heart of Green Bay’s issues?
Will Week 8 further prove the Bills’ dominance over the league this season, or will the Packers have things figured out and a game plan in place to take down Buffalo? There’s a lot to discuss about Green Bay (much of it centers around Rodgers), and nearly none of it is pleasant. Managing editor Evan “Tex” Western with Acme Packing Company joins me this week to answer a few questions about one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.
Aaron Rodgers certainly likes to drop bombshells during his weekly appearances on The Pat McAfee Show, and he’s no stranger to fits of public controversy concerning the team. However, in throwing his teammates and offensive coordinator under the bus, has Rodgers alienated himself beyond repair at this point and is he incapable of self-reflection?
If there’s any feeling from others inside the organization that Rodgers threw them under the bus, they haven’t shown it. If anything, a few of the other players have actually agreed with his comments and taken ownership of some of their own mistakes. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t fault someone for feeling betrayed by Rodgers making those comments in public on a podcast, even if he addressed my mistakes inside the locker room. What does seem to be the case is that Rodgers doesn’t recognize that he’s also part of the problem — sure, his receivers have had their fair share of issues, but his trademark accuracy seems to be slipping and it’s most noticeable on shorter throws that should be gimmes. Just because his QB coach gave him his highest grade of the season for last week’s game, that doesn’t mean it was a good performance; if anything, he has been playing well below his normal level all season.
Green Bay started the season fairly well, posting a 3-1 record. Since then, they’ve lost three consecutive games to the New York Giants, New York Jets, and Washington Commanders. Is there still time to “relax,” or does this slide somehow feel different than past seasons when the team eventually figured it out?
This absolutely feels like a different vibe than in the past. The closest thing I can compare this to is when the Packers started 4-6 in 2016. That team famously ran the table following Rodgers’ comments, but that team started out 4-2 and hit a 4-game losing streak that saw the defense give up 30 or more in all four losses. When that side of the ball started turning around just enough and Rodgers went God-mode down the stretch, it kicked off an 8-game win streak that included a pair of playoff games.
This team doesn’t feel like it has that in it whatsoever. The ‘16 team had reliable veterans like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb plus an up-and-coming Davante Adams as Rodgers’ receiving weapons. Those were all players he trusted, Nelson and Cobb in particular, and who could be counted on to make big plays at key times. With Cobb and Allen Lazard hurt, the top three receivers (Sammy Watkins, Romeo Doubs, and Christian Watson) are all in their first years in Green Bay. To make matters worse, the current skid came in what was thought to be the easy part of the schedule, with a brutal six-week stretch coming up featuring games against the Cowboys, Titans, and Eagles in addition to this week in Buffalo. It’s why most of us at APC think this team should actually be sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline.
In fairness to Rodgers, there really isn’t an observably talented group of receivers running routes for him. Age appears to have caught up with Randall Cobb, and the rest of the wide receivers are perhaps as green as it gets. Yet, GB continues to avoid drafting the top receiving talents each spring. Why do the Packers continue to ignore QB1’s request for better talent at WR?
Given what the Packers did in the 2022 draft, that narrative doesn’t hold up, at least not this year. The Packers tried to trade back into round one to get Watson with the 32nd overall pick but were shot down by the Vikings, only to make the same trade with them at 34 on Friday night. In doing so, the Packers gave up a pair of late second-round picks to do it — that’s a huge investment in draft capital regardless of whether or not he’s technically a “first-round” receiver, and the team lost big on the trade no matter which draft pick value chart you look at. Still, the team absolutely could have invested more heavily in receivers over the previous several seasons. They picked only two wideouts on day two of the draft from 2015 to 2021, both 3rd-rounders in Ty Montgomery and Amari Rodgers. To some extent, that was probably a function of the team missing so badly on some high defensive picks that they had to keep going back to the well, particularly in the secondary, but while Ted Thompson was so good at anticipating needs at that position a year or two early, Brian Gutekunst did not appear to put a priority on it.
As for the 2020 class and the Jordan Love pick...I can’t explain that one, especially taking him over players like Tee Higgins or Michael Pittman. We do know that they loved Justin Jefferson that year and were very high on Brandon Aiyuk, but this team simply does not make big upward moves early in the draft, or at least they didn’t until the move up for Watson. As for free agent receivers, the Packers have had to pay up big to fill defensive holes and keep key defensive players around. Plus, big-ticket free agent wide receivers often don’t work out.
The Packers currently boast the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense. Is there any weakness among the defense where Josh Allen and the Bills’ stable of receivers could thrive?
The Packers may be ranked first in fewest passing yards allowed, but opponents have also attempted fewer passes against them than any other defense. That’s because the run defense has been so abysmal yet again, ranking 31st in DVOA. In truth, this is probably an above-average pass defense, but not an elite one like their talent suggests that they could be. This is partially because the safeties have had some issues and the coaching staff has been slow to adjust when things aren’t working.
I expect we’ll see Jaire Alexander shadow Stefon Diggs, as he has finally started following #1 receivers the past few weeks. He and Diggs had some good battles while the wideout was in Minnesota, and it should be a fun battle to watch. Rasul Douglas has been an incredible ballhawk lately, and if he can actually start catching the balls he’s getting his hands on, picks should start coming in bunches. If I’m the Bills, I’m trying to get Gabe Davis going against rookie Eric Stokes, who has struggled in his sophomore campaign. Where the Packers’ pass defense has been consistently rough is deep and outside the numbers, which makes Davis my #1 concern on Sunday.
Green Bay has struggled on third down—the offense appears unable to stay on the field and the defense can’t get off it. Do you see this as a personnel issue or one of scheme, or is it a combination of the two? Furthermore, does it appear these shortcoming are repairable in-season, or will there need to be larger discussion’s over the winter and spring?
The Packers’ defense has tons of talent, but the unit always seems to be less than the sum of its parts. Because the run defense is so bad, teams often don’t even need to get to third down to try to move the chains. Last Sunday in Washington, they ended up with a lot of third-and-short situations as a result of their poor run defense, and the same was the case two weeks earlier against the Giants. Those run defense issues are schematic to some extent, but the team’s other defensive linemen around Kenny Clark just don’t give them much in that phase.
Offensively, the issues have been more varied. Much of the issue has been poor execution, with drops leading to several failures on 3rd and 4th downs recently. There have been issues with pass protection. There’s also the fact that the Packers use a lot of RPOs which should in theory give the offense an advantage, except for the way that Aaron Rodgers appears to be making his decisions. He seems to be doing so pre-snap rather than reading the defense after the snap, which lets the defense dictate (to some extent) what he’s going to do rather than him reacting in the flow of the play. How can you force a 38-year-old QB to go back to reading defenses and going through his progressions (which was one of his greatest strengths early in his career) rather than determining what he’s doing pre-snap? If you have any ideas, we’d love to hear them.
The much-publicized DraftKings line for Sunday’s game currently casts the Packers as 11-point underdogs. Do you agree with this line—one that, should it hold, would make Rodgers a double-digit dog for the first time in his Hall of Fame career?
The line seems spot on for where these two teams are right now. The Packers haven’t beaten a good team all year and have lost to a few bad ones, while the Bills are a great team, and they’re at home. That said, I think the Packers surprise a little bit — they always seem to get up for prime time games — and keep it close, in part because Buffalo doesn’t really run the ball. I don’t think the Packers pull off an upset, but I do think that they’ll keep it within ten points.
Many thanks to Evan from Acme Packing Company for spending time with me this week. Time will tell if the Packers prove capable of playing the role of spoiler to the Bills. If not, then Week 8 may simply plunge them further into disarray.
Make sure to pay Acme Packing Company a visit to read my responses to Evan’s questions about this week’s matchup with the Bills.