Three weeks into the season, seven NFL teams remain undefeated. Among these are Super Bowl favorites such as the Patriots, Rams and Chiefs, but the team not a lot of people are talking about is the Green Bay Packers. Cheesehead fans have had their prayers answered this season, and with an improved defense and (dear God, I hope this doesn’t jinx anything) a healthy Aaron Rodgers, they are my current favorite to give the Pats and Brady a run for their money in the Super Bowl.
Let’s start off with the biggest reason the Packers have struggled to go anywhere or even make the playoffs for the past several seasons: their defense. Last year they ranked 11th worst in the NFL in points allowed, giving up 25 per game over the season. But that same defense has looked brand new in 2019 and is now the reason for this team’s success.
After three weeks against what were supposed to be strong opponents, the Packers are currently letting up just 11.3 points per game, good enough for second-best behind the Patriots. You might be thinking, “Hang on, Conner, the Packers played some awful QB’s in Trubisky and Cousins, so they don’t count.” But they do. Green Bay allowed just three points to Chicago and 16 to Minnesota. In the Bears and Vikings other two games this season they are averaging 18.5 and 31 points, respectively, with those same quarterbacks throwing the ball.
The heads of the Pack’s newfound defensive prowess have been new signings Preston and Za’Darius Smith. This dynamic duo of linebackers is sending me flashbacks to when prime Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk were running the show and terrifying offenses on a weekly basis, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to develop as we get deeper into the season.
Three weeks in, the Smith pairing has the Packers ranked second in the league in sacks with 12, Preston ranking No. 3 in the league with 4.5 with Za’Darius also placing in the top 10 (the only teammates to do both rank that high) with three. The wombo-combo of pressure Preston and Za’Darius put on opposing QBs means the Packers’ D ranks fifth best in passing yards allowed with 197.3 per game and has let up just one passing TD.
But the biggest takeaway I have gotten from this Packers squad it–wait for it–their takeaways (I’m sorry for that, please keep reading). Along with placing second in sacks and points allowed, Green Bay is also leading the NFL in turnovers, racking up eight total (four fumbles and four INTs) in just three weeks, more than halfway to their total from all of last season. Oppositely they have only turned the ball over twice, leading them to an NFL-best +6 turnover plus-minus.
The run defense still leaves a little to be desired, but this Packers team is young, hungry and ready to prove something to anyone who lost hope based on previous seasons. But what people should really be keeping an eye on though, is the offense.
Things haven’t really clicked yet for Rodgers and the Packers offense, but with some big plays from unexpected names and the aforementioned defense, they’ve found a way to come out 3-0. Now just imagine how good they will be when Rodgers looks more like Rodgers.
It’s true that at the time I’m writing this, Lamar Jackson is averaging more passing yards (288) than the entire Packers offense (287) per game. It is also a fact that Gardner Minshew is averaging more passing yards (230) than Rodgers (215) per game. But both of those stats are sure to change as the season continues.
Rodgers is just one year removed from finishing sixth in passing yards (4442) and ninth in passing yards per game (277.6). The main difference seen this year is the lack of connection between Rodgers and No. 1 receiver Davante Adams, who is on pace for 400 less yards compared to last season and has yet to find the end zone after doing so 13 times a year ago. But there’s this beautiful thing called the law of averages that proves that Rodgers and Adams will get back to putting up some big numbers sooner rather than later.
While that facet of their offense has been M.I.A., it has been Aaron Jones doing a lot of the dirty work for the team. Seriously thank god he is the lead back now; I have been on the hype train since Eddie Lacy ate his first cheeseburger.
Anyway, Jones’ averages may not seem great, but he has shown up in big moments and racked up three touchdowns, including two their last time out against the Broncos, along with 212 yards from scrimmage to start the year. It’s only a matter of time before everything else in the offense falls into place and people begin to see how big a threat the Packers are this season with the Rodgers, Jones, and Adams at the helm.
Now after all this you may be asking, am I writing this column wearing my Packers socks, shoes, pants, shirt and sweatshirt with my Packers blanket wrapped around me like a cloak? The answer to that is a hard yes. But does that make this column any less valid or realistic? Absolutely not. The fact of the matter is that Green Bay has a real shot this year with their suddenly strong defense and ever-improving offense, and I can’t wait to rub it in the Pats and Cowboys fans’ faces.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.