3 Big Things as Packers keep playoff hopes alive v. Rams

Green Bay Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon (25) returns a kickoff during the third quarter of their game Monday, December 19, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Green Bay Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-12.Packers19 11
Green Bay Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon (25) returns a kickoff during the third quarter of their game Monday, December 19, 2022 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Green Bay Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-12.Packers19 11 /

From offense to defense to special teams, the Green Bay Packers had their most complete performance of the season, and it resulted in a win over the Rams, which also helped keep their playoff hopes alive.

It was a win that I would describe as a ‘taking care of business’ type of victory. The Packers did what they needed to do, controlling the game against a beaten-up and inferior opponent.

As always, there is a lot to dive into following any Packers game, but following my rewatch, I’ve boiled their performance down to the three big things that you need to know about.

Keeping it simple: Packers offense takes what the Rams defense gives them

Moving the ball for the Green Bay Packers offense was a pretty simple formula against the Los Angeles Rams. And, to be clear, this statement isn’t a knock either. In fact, it was nice to see them take what the defense was giving them and exploit those weaknesses.

The Rams played a heavy dose of cover-2 against Green Bay, which included a lot of soft coverages, in an effort to limit the big passing play. We can call this the Christian Watson effect, and it’s not something that defenses were doing a month ago prior to his emergence. As LaFleur said after the game, Watson is very much affecting how secondaries defend Green Bay.

With a lot of space underneath, the Packers took advantage with the quick passing game. Rodgers’ average depth of target was just 4.8 yards, per PFF, his lowest of the season. Green Bay also leaned on the run game, a weak point in the cover-2 scheme, rushing the ball 32 times compared to 30 pass attempts for Rodgers. Without Aaron Donald in the middle, the Packers running backs averaged 4.4 yards per rush against one of the NFL’s stingiest run defenses.

Before the game, I was curious to see what the Packers’ run-pass mix would look like going against a stout Rams’ front but a secondary that has struggled. For much of the season, when the Packers have become one-dimensional with the passing game, it simply hasn’t been good enough to lean on. Given the matchup, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them throw the ball around a bit. You can read more here, but the Packers’ ability to put up points over the last five games has been tied to their success on the ground.

It certainly wasn’t the flashiest performance by this Packers offense, but they took what the defense gave them and, overall, had one of their more well-rounded games of the season.

Packers Defense takes care of business

There’s really no way to sugarcoat it, this isn’t a very good Rams offense. Baker Mayfield has been in Los Angeles for less than two weeks, the offensive line has been banged up all season, which has resulted in a poor run game, and their receiving corps was without Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson. But nonetheless, the Packers’ defense did what they needed to, which was shut them down.

Green Bay held the Rams to just 156 total yards and 3.6 yards per play. The front seven really controlled the line of scrimmage, holding the Rams to 3.9 yards per rush and pressuring Mayfield on 41% of his dropbacks. Joe Barry did a nice job of utilizing blitzes to help generate some of those pressures, and while there were some soft coverages at times, overall, Green Bay was more aggressive than what we typically see, playing closer to the line of scrimmage, with the secondary held their own against a sub-par passing game. The tackling was more sound, and the Rams also tried to mix in a fair amount of screens and misdirections, which Green Bay defended well.

Again, does this mean that the Packers’ defense turned a corner? No, unfortunately not. They just took advantage of a struggling offense–which, of course, was still great to see and not something they’ve been able to do with any regularity this season. Next week against an explosive Miami offense led by Mike McDaniel, who comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, will present this defense with a real test.

How did it take this long to get Keisean Nixon returning punts and kicks?

Keisean Nixon is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. He’s never seen a return opportunity that he didn’t want to field and brings terrific vision and explosiveness to the position.

Nixon finsihed the game with three kick returns averaging 31.7 yards with a long of 52. On punts, he averaged 18 yards on a pair of returns with a long of 19. Nixon now ranks second in the NFL in total kick return yards and 10th in average, and he’s second in yards per punt return per PFF.

After the game, Aaron Rodgers had more high praise for Nixon, saying that in his 18 years in Green Bay, he’s never seen an opposing kicker kick the ball away from a Packers return man, something the Rams did to open the second half.

So again, I ask the question on everyone’s mind, why did it take so long to bench Amari Rodgers for Nixon? We will likely never know the exact reason(s), but Matt LaFleur did provide some insight after the game.

"“I know, we’re probably going to get criticized for not playing him early, and that’s fair,” LaFleur said via Packers Wire. “We should have had him in there earlier, and we didn’t. I don’t think we knew what we had. He’s proven what he brings to the table. Can’t say enough about what he brings to this team.”"

In addition to what he added to the special teams unit, he’s been a steady slot presence for the Packers in recent weeks. Nixon would play 100% of the defensive snaps against the Rams and allowed four completions but limited the pass catchers to only 6.8 yards per catch.

The Packers have been looking for stability at the return man position for some time, and Nixon has not only provided that, but he’s been, as LaFleur called him, a “difference maker” as well.