For the first time this season, the Green Bay Packers could have their full complement of skill position players available, along with their current preferred starting five on the offensive line against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The final injury report came out on Saturday, and the only player in question is Aaron Jones, who is listed as questionable with that hamstring injury. Christian Watson, Elgton Jenkins, and Jon Runyan do not have an injury designation. Jones, meanwhile, practiced each day this week in a limited capacity as he has done the past two weeks.
While dealing with injuries and inexperience, the offense has found stretches of success, but they’ve largely not been able to sustain that throughout the course of their first four games. In fact, slow starts, in particular, have put this Packers team in early holes the last two weeks.
"“Any time you have some youth you’re going to have some ups and downs,” said Matt LaFleur on Saturday. “We definitely have to perform more consistently, no matter who is in the lineup on offense. It starts with just being locked in, dialed in. I think we’ve put ourselves in a lot of bad positions with penalties, whether they’re pre-snap penalties, we’ve been called for holdings. So we’ve kind of put ourselves in some bad spots. We’ve just got to be more consistent, and it’s not just one specific group, it’s collectively as a whole.”"
The Packers have very much missed Jenkins, whose absence was magnified by the offense also not having David Bakhtiari either. In Jenkins’ place was Royce Newman, who has allowed the most pressures on the team despite playing the fewest amount of snaps among the Packers’ Week 4 starting offensive line unit. He also enters Week 5 ranked 67th out of 76 guards by PFF’s grading system.
Jenkins, in 41 pass-block snaps this season, had allowed just one pressure and is a Pro Bowl-caliber left guard with All-Pro potential.
"“I think anytime you get a player the caliber of Elgton Jenkins, that’s huge for you,” said LaFleur. “Having all of those guys out there would be great. He’s definitely played a lot of ball and at a high level for us and brings a mentality to our line that I think we need.”"
It’s a must that the offensive line has a bounce-back performance this week against the Las Vegas Raiders, following a performance against Detroit where Jordan Love was pressured on nearly 50 percent of his dropbacks, and the run game averaged just over two yards per attempt. At the end of the day, if the offensive line is struggling that poorly in both the passing and running games, it doesn’t much matter what the play call or design is.
For the entire season up to this point, the run game has not been able to get going whatsoever for the Packers, who currently rank 29th in yards per rush. This then has a negative trickle-down effect on the passing game and even the defense. By failing to move the ball on first downs – which is a result of an inconsistent passing game as well – the offense finds itself in predictable passing situations where the defensive front can pin its ears back, and the defense as a whole can get into favorable matchups–in short, making moving the ball through the air even more difficult, which leads to short drives and more time for the defense to be on the field.
Of course, having Jones regularly back in the mix will certainly help as he brings a playmaking ability that AJ Dillon just doesn’t have, even if there aren’t huge running lanes. Last week, between the Lions loading the box, daring the Packers to throw the ball, and the Packers running just 11 plays on offense before being down 24 to 3, they never had the opportunity to really get the run game or Jones going. With that said, there does need to be a more concerted effort, even if it’s through schemed-up plays, to get him touches, which includes in the passing game.
With Watson completely off the injury report, we hopefully see him taking on a full snap count this week after being limited versus Detroit. We all know the speed element that Watson brings, but he is someone who can win in all parts of the field and line up really anywhere across the formation, helping to create mismatches. That versatility and speed not only creates big play potential for himself but for others as well with his gravity and the attention that he draws from defenders.
As already mentioned, this Packers offense has not been able to find much consistency this season, whether it be due to injuries, an ineffective run game, or a young passing game that’s been relied upon heavily but isn’t ready to shoulder that workload. However, this week will provide the offense with an opportunity to put together four solid quarters of football. Potentially being at full strength certainly helps, but this is also a Raiders defense that has really been one of the worst in football this season.
Edge rusher Maxx Crosby has the ability to wreck a game, so the Packers will have to be prepared for him, but outside of Crosby, this is a defense that has struggled to stop the run and ranks poorly in points per game allowed, red zone defense, and third down defense. Basically, pick a key defensive metric, and the Raiders likely rank in the bottom half of the league and may even be among the worst.
This game feels like it will tell us a lot about where this Packers offense is at currently because it is a matchup where they should be able to find success. And if they do, they are on the right track. If they don’t, then there is going to be a lot of work that this group has to do in the coming weeks to play catch up.