Jason Hirschhorn of our sister site, Acme Packing Company, was kind enough to offer some perspective to us this week as we look at perhaps the weirdest season of Packers football in recent memory. Marked by injuries, criticisms of longtime head coach Mike McCarthy, and even mistakes from the great Aaron Rodgers himself, Green Bay’s 2016 campaign has been a roller coaster of emotions. Nobody really knows what to make of the former Kings of the North anymore, and that includes us here on the BRB staff. Here is what Jason had to say in advance of this weekend’s showdown up in Wisconsin:
1. The Packers’ offense has been inconsistent to say the least this season. What do you believe has been the source of the problem?
During the first month of the season, the Packers relied heavily on the things and tactics that worked for them in 2014 and failed them last year. Namely, the offense expected its receivers to consistently win one-on-one matchups without the aid of man-beating route combinations like crossers or rubs while the ground game set up more manageable second- and third-down situations.
That approach worked wonders in Green Bay when it had the best receiving corps in the league. However, the collection of pass catchers it has now, while still among the better groups in the league, could not succeed in that manner anymore, at least not consistently.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers performed well below expectations during much of the first half of the season. He regularly missed throws into the flats and over the middle, proverbial layups, and the offense sputtered as a result.
While the running game hasn't improved for reasons discussed below, the passing attack has steadied of late. Whether the Packers left themselves enough time to take advantage remains to be seen.
2. It isn't just the offense that has had some issues, however, as the defense has given up at least 30 points in four of their last five games. What's going on there?
While teams shy away from blaming injuries for their shortcomings, such represents the only reasonable explanation for why the Packers fell apart defensively over the last month. Not only did the team play that stretch without starting corners Demetri Goodson and Damarious Randall for all but one game between them, both of the team's starting inside linebackers have missed time as well as star pass rusher Clay Matthews.
With the pass rush limited and the secondary relying on 2015 undrafted free agent LaDarius Gunter as its de facto top cover man for nearly all of that stretch, the scoring totals make a little more sense.
3. One of the brightest spots on Green Bay’s squad this season is Davante Adams, who has seemingly come out of nowhere to finally develop into a really good receiver. What finally made it all "click" for him?
Davante Adams' success does seem surprising, certainly for those who watched his performance last season when he averaged less than 10 yards per reception and looked like a receiver running in quicksand. However, his development shouldn't feel as surprising when you consider the context.
As a rookie, Adams played only a limited role in the offense. However, he used his quick-twitch athleticism and powerful frame to create separation at the line of scrimmage and bully defenders in contested-catch situations. That first-year performance, however partial, set him up for major expectations in Year 2.
However, like his counterparts Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Adams didn't make it far into the season before injuries derailed his progress. He sprained his ankle in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks and badly re-aggravated the injury the following week against the Kansas City Chiefs. He missed considerable time and ultimately still returned too soon. The burst that made him effective as a rookie remained absent, and his lack of confidence in his ankle created issues elsewhere -- namely drops.
Fast forward to 2016, and Adams' quickness has returned along with his concentration and confidence. Opponents have had little-to-no success guarding against his slant patterns, off which he scored one of his two touchdowns last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. Adams has also expanded his game, becoming a more viable deep threat through refined footwork on double moves.
With Nelson showing signs of age and Cobb playing closer to the line of scrimmage, Adams has become the Packers' No. 1 receiver in all but name.
4. Do you believe that Eddie Lacy will be re-signed in the offseason, or will the Packers look to replace him within this loaded running back draft class?
I think Eddie Lacy has already played his last game for the Packers. While he looked like a monster from 2013-'14 and ran effectively this season before his ankle injury, his conditioning and long-term health seem precarious at best. General Manager Ted Thompson rarely invests second contracts in players with such significant concerns, and the upcoming draft class appears likely to feature an embarrassment of riches at the running back position.
Perhaps Lacy returns next year on a one-year "prove it" deal. However, Green Bay's track record suggests he walks in free agency with a replacement coming through the draft.
5. What are your predictions for the game on Sunday?
The way the Packers played last week -- their first legitimately complete effort of the season -- has somewhat changed the way I look at the team. A week before that, I no doubt would have chosen the Texans to win Sunday in Lambeau Field. However, the suddenly hot offense and not-a-total-trash-fire defense at least raises the prospect of Green Bay holding serve at home.
Still, the Packers have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball and have a short week to plan for the Texans. Those factors, along with injuries for both Rodgers and Matthews, should give anyone pause about picking Green Bay.
In the end, I have a hard time picking a team with Brock Osweiler under center defeating one with Rodgers at the helm, so I guess I expect the Packers to win. I don't feel great about that pick, though.
For what it’s worth, Jason has a point here. Any team with Aaron Rodgers should and likely will be favored against any team led by Brock Osweiler; that much is rather obvious. The real question in this game is whether the Texans’ defense and run game can play well enough to make that obvious personnel advantage irrelevant for just one Sunday afternoon. Help us, Jadeve-wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.