Packers’ offense sizzling, but the defense remains a work in progress
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
The Green Bay Packers have capitalized on the strengths of their potent offense and the circumstances of this unusual season to get an early jump on the rest of the NFC.
Now they need to get better and healthier on defense.
Green Bay (3-0) leads the NFL in points per game (40.7) and yards per play (6.9) after winning 37-30 at New Orleans on Sunday night without star receiver Davante Adams, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
The explosiveness of the Packers’ attack had quarterback Aaron Rodgers fielding questions about how this unit compares to the best offenses he’s led in a Hall of Fame-caliber career. Rodgers started out by citing 2011 and 2014, the years he was named MVP.
“But this offense is just so different,” Rodgers said. “Other than Davante, who obviously didn’t play tonight, I don’t think many teams look at us and think we have a number of stars that they’re really worried about. Obviously Aaron Jones is a such a talented guy and you try and take him away, but you never know really whose day it’s going to be.”
Thanks in part to Rodgers’ ability to draw opposing defenses offside and create free plays, the Packers have benefited as much as any team from the lack of fans at NFL stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Packers led 30-27 and faced third-and-3 from the New Orleans 15-yard line with less than four minutes left when Rodgers drew Demario Davis offside and threw into the end zone, where Janoris Jenkins was grabbing Allen Lazard’s left arm. The pass interference penalty set up Rodgers’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Robert Tonyan.
While Rodgers says he misses playing in front of fans even in road games, he acknowledges the lack of spectators helps the offense.
“I mentioned that early in training camp, (that) I feel like it was going to be an advantage for guys like myself with who have cadence that can be rhythmic enough to draw people offside,” Rodgers said. “At the bare minimum, it definitely keeps them at bay, they’re not really able to jump the snap count. Which, for us, is all it needs to do. It’s a new world we’re living in, playing in.”
But the same old issues are facing Green Bay’s defense.
Green Bay allowed New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara to gain 58 yards on six carries and catch 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday the Packers had at least 13 missed tackles at New Orleans. Five of them came when Kamara caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown. That defense played a second straight game without tackle Kenny Clark because of a groin injury and lost linebacker Christian Kirksey in the first half to a shoulder injury. If Kirksey misses additional time, it could expose Green Bay at a position where it lacks depth.
The Packers’ defense has produced plenty of big plays — the turning point of Sunday’s game came when Za’Darius Smith stripped the ball away from Taysom Hill — but they’re allowing too many long gains.