The Packers were one of the most unique teams to evaluate on the Texans 2020 schedule. They didn't finish in the top 12 in any major statistical category, except for a key one I'll get back to in a minute. They had a first year/first time head coach. They had an odd home heavy early/road heavy late schedule. Watching them back on tape, it didn't always feel like I was watching a 13-3 team at all.
But, BUT, the Packers found ways to win close games. Now, they did get some help from the scheduling gods, if you will. They didn't face Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City due to his injury. Their crossover NFC division was the NFC East, which was, uh, not great in 2019 (then the Packers lost to Philadelphia). They swept a relatively weak NFC North.
The one key, though, that I mentioned above was that they were +12 in turnover margin throughout the 2019 season. Add those things up and it's not outside the realm of believability that the Packers finished 13-3. Yet, they lost to the two NFC division winners they faced during the season (Philadelphia and San Francisco) and didn't get a ton of respect from the NFL world at large as they headed into the NFC Championship game in Santa Clara. They were an eight point dog heading into that game against the Niners and lost by 17.
Which direction does the 2020 season go in Matt LaFleur's second campaign? We should know a bit more by week seven of the 2020 season, so let's get to Know the Texans week seven Foe - the Green Bay Packers.
2019 Schedule - Record 13-3, won NFC North, lost in NFC Championship game
W, @ Chicago Bears 10-3
W, Minnesota Vikings 21-16
W, Denver Broncos 27-16
L, Philadelphia Eagles 34-27
W, @ Dallas Cowboys 34-24
W, Detroit Lions 23-22
W, Oakland Raiders 42-24
W, @ Kansas City Chiefs 31-24
L, @ Los Angeles Chargers 26-11
W, Carolina Panthers 24-16
L, @ San Francisco 49ers 37-8
W, @ New York Giants 31-13
W, Washington Redskins 20-15
W, Chicago Bears 21-13
W, @ Minnesota Vikings 23-10
W, @ Detroit Lions 23-20
W, Seattle Seahawks 28-23
L, @ San Francisco 49ers 37-20
Packers OFFENSE (in 2019 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 112.2 ypg (15th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 233.3 ypg (17th)
Total offense per game - 345.5 ypg (18th)
Turnovers lost - 13 (4 INT, 9 Fumbles lost)
Projected Packers starting offense in 2020
QB - Aaron Rodgers
RB - Aaron Jones
WR - Davante Adams
WR - Allen Lazard
TE - Jace Sternberger/Marcedes Lewis
LT - David Bahktiari
LG - Elgton Jenkins/Lane Taylor
C - Corey Linsley
RG - Billy Turner/Elgton Jenkins
RT - RICKY WAGNER
Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - Marquez Valdes-Scantling
WR - DEVIN FUNCHESS
RB - Jamaal Williams
RB - A.J. DILLON
FB/H-Back - JOSIAH DeGUARA
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2020
Since 1992, the Packers offense has been driven by THE talent at quarterback. First, it was Hall of Famer Brett Favre and then, in 2008, future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers took the reins and followed Favre's lead. That will continue for the forese...uh, well, not sure where this goes after Draft weekend 2020. The Packers offense seemed to take a left turn on draft weekend when it traded up to get Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Keep in mind, they drafted Love with the knowledge that Rodgers still has at least TWO years of financial security in Green Bay, given dead cap money if the Packers cut or trade the Packers legend. They also drafted Boston College powerhouse running back A.J. Dillon when they have a Pro Bowl running back (Aaron Jones) and one of the best number twos in the league (Jamaal Williams). So, yeah, it was interesting times throughout draft weekend to say the least for this offense.
Rodgers will lead this offense in the foreseeable future but Love will be waiting in the wings, ala, well, Aaron Rodgers back in 2008. Statistically, Rodgers wasn't quite at the top of his game in the first year in Matt LaFleur's offense (just over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns). He still had some magical moments (the touchdown pass in Kansas City to Jamaal Williams stands out), but the overall success was off by a hair. Love will be the one NFL first round pick that doesn't, or shouldn't, see the field in 2020. Unless Rodgers gets injured, Love will sit and learn...for a while and that's not a bad thing. In my opinion, Rodgers is just as scary to face as he's been and he's played extremely well against the Texans the past two times he's faced them (2012 & 2016).
Aaron Jones was OUTSTANDING in 2019, racking up well over 1,500 yards of total offense and 19 total touchdowns. Jamaal Williams added 713 yards of total offense and six total touchdowns. That's well over 2,220 yards of total offense and 25 touchdowns in the Packers two running backs...and the Packers used a second round pick on a running back?!? Now, I thought heading into the draft that Dillon would be a surprise for some team, but I didn't expect that team to be Green Bay. Matt LaFleur had Derrick Henry in Tennessee for a year and Dillon the size, speed and power dimensions reminiscent of the Pro Bowl back in Nashville. That's a crowded backfield, though, and figuring out the touches will be, uh, interesting for LaFleur and his offensive coaching staff.
Wide receivers/Tight ends
Davante Adams is a special dude. The film says so. The numbers say so. The belief Rodgers has in him tells the same story. But, many think that the Packers don't have a reliable second option at receiver in the passing game, especially with pass catching tight end Jimmy Graham no longer in Green Bay. I am not one of those people. Sure, there's no definitive number two but Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are solid. Throw in the addition of Devin Funchess and this group is better, overall, than some initially suspect. The key is the growth of second year pass catching tight end Jace Sternberger. If he gains Rodgers' respect, he could be a valued weapon in this offense.
The Packers are going to run it back with one notable exception at right tackle. Longtime starting tackle Bryan Bulaga moved on to the Los Angeles Chargers, leaving a gaping hole at that spot. Instead of investing an early draft pick on a tackle, the Packers signed former Ravens/former Lions tackle Ricky Wagner to jump into that spot. Three year starter Lane Taylor missed most of the 2019 season, which allowed 2019 2nd rounder Elgton Jenkins to move into the starting lineup. So, there are three players for two spots: Taylor, Jenkins and Billy Turner. Jenkins is too talented to NOT play one of the guard spots, so Taylor and Turner could be in a competition for that other guard spot. David Bakhtiari is still one of the best left tackles in the game, if not the best (minus our guy in Houston - Laremy Tunsil). It's one of the better offensive lines in the league, if everyone is healthy.
Packers DEFENSE (in 2019 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 120.1 ypg (23rd in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 232.6 ypg (14th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 352.6 ypg (18th)
Turnovers generated - 23 (13 INT, 10 Fumble recoveries - Packers were +12 in TO margin)
Projected Packers starting defense in 2020
DE - Dean Lowry
NT - Kenny Clark
DE - Tyler Lancaster
OLB - Preson Smith
ILB - Oren Burks
ILB - CHRISTIAN KIRKSEY
OLB - Za'Darius Smith
CB - Jaire Alexander
S - Darnell Savage Jr.
S - Adrian Amos
CB - Kevin King
Other Key Defensive pieces
DT - Montravius Adams
DE - Kingsley Keke
OLB - Rashan Gary
S - Will Redmond
Bold - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New starter in 2020
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine returns for year two with LaFleur (year three in total) and the Packers' head coach expects the defense to take steps forward under Pettine's leadership. In 2019, the Packers defense had moments of absolute brilliance and afternoons/evenings of "WHAT THE HECK AM I WATCHING?!?" ugliness. The Packers brass didn't make any real changes on that side of the ball, though; Pettine returns as does nearly every single starter from last year's defense. Considering how this defense was transformed by the addition of two stars through free agency last year, I'm surprised that the Packers didn't address a few defensive needs with more vigor in free agency and the draft, honestly. It's going to be a veteran defense with a veteran coordinator, so it needs to take a leap on into the top 10 of the league.
Defensive line/Edge rushers
The addition of the Smith Brothers (non-related) was a major coup for the Packers in 2019. Preston (12) and Za'Darius (13.5) combined for 25.5 sacks and gave the pass rush a much, MUCH needed boost. 2019 1st round selection Rashan Gary didn't do much in his rookie campaign yet he could provide this defense with a major shot in the arm if he's ready to join the Smith Brothers in creating a ton of havoc off the edge. Inside, the Packers duo of Dean Lowry and Pro Bowler Kenny Clark is as good as the Texans will face in 2020. All in all, the defensive front is one that can go from excellent to unstoppable with an upgrade in Gary's game.
The one area that did change for the Packers was at the inside linebacker position. Blake Martinez led the Packers in tackles (155) but never really gained the trust of the Packers' faithful. As such, he took the Big Apple's money and headed to play for the New York Giants. B.J. Goodson, a former Giant...and Packer, went to Cleveland. But, from Cleveland, came Christian Kirksey who played for Mike Pettine when Pettine was the head coach in Cleveland in 2014 and 2015. So, there's an inter-connectedness to the inside linebacker position but it doesn't strike me as one that scares anyone on the Packers schedule. They did draft Kamal Martin from Minnesota in the fifth round, the Packers' earliest defensive draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but I don't think he plays much in 2020.
There is some talent in the back four, that's for certain. Cornerback Jaire Alexander has become one of the better, more aggressive corners in the NFC. On the opposite side, Kevin King had five interceptions in 2019. Darnell Savage Jr. had a rookie season to build upon and Adrian Amos provided stability in the back end after signing with the Packers after starting his career in Chicago. The secondary does work well with the pass rush, for the most part, however, San Francisco didn't have any issues knocking them out in two matchups in 2019.