By Nick Shook
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Green Bay is a team with hope standing on its sideline in the form of a man who usually dons a No. 12 jersey. But in the meantime, the Packers aren’t all that threatening.
Against Pittsburgh in Week 12, some of that had to do with struggles in protecting backup quarterback Brett Hundley. The Packers surrendered four sacks in that game and are 31st in the NFL in sacks allowed with 42 through 12 games.
Our own Marc Istook broke that down in last week’s video, which focused on Green Bay’s struggles against Pittsburgh.
A lot of that is due to Hundley. The quarterback is dead last in the NFL among qualified passers (minimum of 15 pass attempts per week at 40 for a season) in time to throw at 3.12 seconds, which ranks above the league standard of 3 seconds flat or less. Even worse, he’s more skittish than ever in the pocket.
The harrassment Hundley faced in the loss to Pittsburgh had a noticeable effect on his play the following week, especially when he bailed out of clean pockets to scramble for minimal gains.
Far too often, Hundley is also quick to pull his eyes down when feeling even remotely pressured. This frequently results in Hundley attempting to escape pockets, only to run himself into sacks. When spread over the sample size he’s been afforded in the absence of Aaron Rodgers, it is a direct reason why Green Bay’s offense has been handcuffed more often than not.
Then again, there are also the occasional times when Hundley shows how his mobility can create something out of seemingly nothing, turning would-be sacks into ground gains of 10 and 14 yards in the first half against Tampa Bay. But too frequently, the former is the truth — not the latter.
From Week 12 to Week 13, Green Bay’s offensive line improved tremendously. A unit that struggled mightily against stunts in the loss to Pittsburgh learned from its mistakes and adjusted quickly, picking up similar stunts with ease against Tampa Bay.
This isn’t entirely the line’s doing, though. Tampa Bay doesn’t pack the same punch with its front seven that Pittsburgh does. The Buccaneers were also very unimaginative in their defensive playcalling against Green Bay. The challenge simply wasn’t as great.
The key matchup in Week 14 against Cleveland will of course be between rookie Myles Garrett and left tackle David Bakhtiari. The latter struggled in spots against Pittsburgh but was as reliable as they come versus Tampa Bay. Garrett is a different beast than anyone Bakhtiari faced from Tampa Bay, and offers more stunting chances for Cleveland. Here is where we’ll see if Green Bay has truly fixed its problems against slants and stunts.
Green Bay has blocked power plays better than zones as of late, but neither are all that promising. What has been glaring in recent weeks is how close guard Jahri Evans is to retirement. The former elite-level blocker just doesn’t bring what he once did to the game, something that was evident early and especially in the fourth quarter, when Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — who owns one of the league’s best get-offs — blew right past his inside shoulder for a tackle for loss.
Praise should be heaped on the pulling ability to Lane Taylor, who showed on a couple of different occasions that he excels at keeping his head on a swivel while following his course into the hole. He sealed off McCoy (Tampa Bay’s best defensive lineman) on a pull in the first half and wrapped into the hole to clear space for a Jamaal Williams on another run later in the half.
But Green Bay’s offense, as a whole, remains stuck in a low gear with no sign that it’s ever going to speed up. Even on the game-winning touchdown run, Aaron Jones took a handoff and ran into a wall of humans — because there wasn’t anywhere to run according to the designed play — before making his own course to the end zone for the walk-off winner.
Green Bay’s offense isn’t great. It’s not really even good. But that’s not on the offensive line. The Packersshould be interesting to watch when Rodgers returns, whether in contention or not, just to see how the offense transforms with him under center. Until then, bleh.