After a thrilling victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Green Bay Packers are still alive in the playoff hunt.
With a little help from teams like the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, and San Francisco 49ers, the Packers sit in the 8th seed for the NFC playoffs. Defeating the Chargers not only means that Green Bay is still alive, but it also could serve as the turning point this team needed.
On paper, many saw the Los Angeles Chargers as one of the top teams in the league. With star players on both offense and defense, plus a proven offensive mind in Kellen Moore, the recipe for success in Los Angeles was all there. Few expected their game against the Packers to potentially put Los Angeles toward the bottom of the AFC standings with a loss; that’s exactly what happened. The Packers-Chargers game was huge for both teams, and the Packers are still alive in the playoff hunt.
How to Replace Jones
Going forward, the Packers might be without their star running back Aaron Jones for a while. Jones reportedly avoided a major knee injury against the Chargers, but his absence could have a big impact on the team. In the three games Jones did not play this season, the Packers failed to top 100 total rushing yards twice. In two of those games, Jordan Love boosted the rushing attack with a few big scrambles, while A.J. Dillon was inconsistent. With Dillon playing more aggressively than he was early in the season, the Packers should be hopeful that he can help carry the team in Jones’ absence. It also is likely Green Bay will add a veteran free agent during these next few weeks.
Against the Chargers, Green Bay incorporated other skill players into the gameplan to create yards on the ground. Rookie receiver Jayden Reed cemented himself as one of the team’s emerging stars against the Chargers by doing damage both through the air and on the ground. Reed handled seven total touches and turned one of his rushing attempts into a 32-yard touchdown. Using Reed in the open field will likely be a focus for Green Bay as they try to replace Jones.
It is clear that Love and the coaching staff are starting to trust Reed in key situations, and against the Chargers Reed received three targets on third down, plus one rushing attempt on third down. Having a reliable weapon like Reed helps open up opportunities for other players to make key plays in crucial moments. It also gives balance to the offense and allows the Packers to get creative with their speedy tight ends.
Relying on the Rookies
Again, Green Bay leaned on its young players for big plays. Rookie tight end Tucker Kraft came close to scoring a long touchdown, while Dontayvion Wicks led the team in receiving yards. Jordan Love looked to the young skill players all game, and three of his top-four targets on the day were rookies. While Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson came up with big touchdowns late in the Chargers game, the trust the Love has shown in his rookies should boost the team’s confidence going forward.
The run game is vital for Green Bay because it helps open up the rest of the field and generate big plays. Against Los Angeles, Love connected on a handful of intermediate throws that turned into big gains. Four different players turned their receptions into gains over 20 yards for Green Bay, giving the offense a spark. While the running game only saw one play go for more than 20 yards, the passing attack provided some bright moments. Without Jones, the team will need players like Dillon to carry the ground game, but Matt LaFleur also showed that he can make adjustments during the game to create opportunities for his young players.
This season has always been about building chemistry with young players while trying to determine if Love is the answer at quarterback. More showings like the one on Sunday should only help clarify this question for the organization. There are more opportunities for the Packers to climb the playoff seedings, and for right now they are still alive.
Main Photo: [William Glasheen] – USA Today Sports