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Packers offense only thing standing in way of NFC supremacy

© Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers carried the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs during the peak of his NFL career. No other quarterback came close to matching his ability and he led Green Bay to deep runs in the postseason, where the defense often fell short.

The big picture: Green Bay now has a defense capable of carrying it to the postseason. If the Packers want to return to NFC supremacy, it’s time for Rodgers and this offense to start showing up.

Offseason additions pay off: Packers GM Brian Gutekunst made improving this defense a priority this offseason and the early results are outstanding.

  • OLB Preston Smith, who Green Bay signed to a four-year, $52 million deal, recorded three sacks in Week 3 and has 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and an interception in three games.
  • OLB Za’Darius Smith, who signed a four-year deal for $66 million, recorded two sacks on Sunday and to give him three this yeaar.
  • Rookie safety Darnell Savage recorded his first interception in Week 3 and has immediately become a playmaker in Green Bay’s secondary.

Defensive dominance: The impact from Green Bay’s offseason acquisitions has bolstered a defense that already possessed young talent on the rise.

  • CB Jaire Alexander showed flashes of greatness as a rookie in 2018 and is now a shutdown corner. He helped quiet Minnesota’s passing game in Week 2 and quite literally stole the football from Noah Fant in Week 3.
  • DT Kenny Clark, the No. 27 pick in 2016, is establishing himself as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
  • LB Blake Martinez, coming off an 2018 season with five sacks and 144 tackles, is taking another step forward in his age-25 season.
  • After generating 15 turnovers in 2018, Green Bay’s defense has eight turnovers in three games this year.

Green Bay’s defense is loaded with playmakers at every level and is also receiving contributions from safety Adrian Amos, cornerback Kevin King and rookie defensive lineman Rashan Gary.

Shutting down the passing game, putting pressure on quarterbacks and creating possessions for the offense is a staple of this defense. Unfortunately, the offense isn’t living up to its end of the deal.

Rodgers’ inconsistency: There are moments this season when Rodgers shows the jaw-dropping ability to make unspeakable throws on the run and fit footballs into impossible windows.

Rodgers also goes through long stretches when he can’t hit wide-open receivers and drags down this offense right on the verge of momentum.

  • In the 10-7 win over Chicago, he threw one touchdown and made a few nice throws. The rest of the night saw him hold the ball too long, miss open receivers and ignore easy reads.
  • Green Bay rolled out to a 21-0 lead against Minnesota’s defense behind Rodgers’ 141 passing yards and two touchdowns on three drives. He finished the game with 209 passing yards in the 21-16 win.
  • Rodgers burned Denver’s defense for a 40-yard touchdown on a free play to open Sunday. He finished the game 17-of-29 for 235 yards and the lone touchdown in a 27-16 win.

Rodgers is better than he was last year at taking short, safe throws when deep passes are erased. However, inconsistent mechanics are still resulting in far too many overthrows and rockets into the dirt. If he can’t clean up the lazy mechanics and baffling decisions, this won’t be a championship-caliber offense.

Early issues for Matt LaFleur: It takes time for a new coach to fully install his scheme, for players to acclimate to it, and for him to adjust to what players do well.

  • He is committed to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams splitting touches. He made the same mistake in Tennessee with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis before finally featuring Henry late in the year. Even if it’s meant to preserve Jones’ health, great offensive minds want to feed their best players often and LaFleur isn’t doing that.
  • TE Jimmy Graham is quickly proving his days as an offensive weapon are behind him and he remains a turnstile in pass protection – LaFleur still relies on him with better options available.
  • It took until Week 3 and a long-term injury for LaFleur to realize rookie offensive guard Elgton Jenkins is better than Lane Taylor.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the No. 2 receiver and the talent differential to the next closest receivers is glaring. Green Bay would greatly benefit from adding another impact receiver to complement Davante Adams, but LaFleur is trying to make the best of it until then. Of course, he has no other choice given Gutekunst ignored the position in the offseason.

The future: There’s reason for optimism for Green Bay’s offense. Timing and execution are everything in the NFL and that should improve in the weeks to come.

  • Green Bay opened the season against three of the NFL’s best defenses with strong secondaries and front fours that excels at generating pressure.
  • Life gets easier in the weeks ahead with the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Carolina Panthers and New York Giants among its next nine opponents.
  • The adjustment period for players becoming familiar with a new offensive scheme usually takes around six-to-eight weeks before everyone is executing.

A 1-2 record would have put the Packers behind a few contenders but still in the early hunt if the offense regrouped. Green Bay currently sits atop the conference and we aren’t seeing them execute in all three phases.

The bottom line: This current team has a great chance of making the playoffs. If Rodgers taps into his old form more consistently and elevates this offense, we’re looking at squad that could make it to Super Bowl LIV.

If his prime is truly behind him and LaFleur’s questionable in-game decisions and bizarre faith in certain players continues, Green Bay will flame out and waste its best defense in years.