Before the Green Bay Packers take on the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football, here are four big things to watch for as the game unfolds, along with some final thoughts on the matchup.
The Packers are coming off a disappointing performance against the Detroit Lions, where, to put it simply, they were bullied in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I go into greater detail in this article, but in short, all eyes should be on the run game and run defense for the Packers against the Raiders. Any sort of success that they are going to potentially find on either side of the ball begins here.
"“I think anytime that you go out there and you can’t effectively run the football,” said Matt LaFleur following the Detroit game, “and conversely can’t stop the run, that’s a recipe for losing football."
It’s now or never for the Packers run defense
The Green Bay Packers run defense has allowed 200-plus rushing yards in two of the past three games. Following their latest performance against Detroit, Matt LaFleur told reporters that the Packers had to rethink their defensive approach, specifically not being so rigid in certain situations and failing to break away from their shell coverage look when the offense is in a more obvious running situation.
With a mini-bye, the Packers have had additional time to look back at the first four games and to make these defensive adjustments. Green Bay is also facing a Raiders’ offense that, even with Josh Jacobs, has been one of the worst in football this season statistically. The Las Vegas run game ranks 32nd in both run DVOA and yards per attempt.
From a personnel standpoint, more early down snaps with Preston Smith and Lukas Van Ness on the field – if Rashan Gary is still going to be on a pitch count – as well as more early snaps with Kenny Clark and TJ Slaton together should be on Green Bay’s radar as well.
Being able to slow the Raiders’ run game will benefit the rest of the defense. It will put the offense in second and third-and-long situations, allowing the pass rush to truly get after the quarterback. The defense is also able to do the dictating by getting into favorable matchups.
So if you put all of that together: more time to prepare, supposed changes to Green Bay’s defensive philosophy, and the fact that the Raiders have really struggled on the ground, if the Packers can’t figure it out on Monday night, I’m not sure they ever will this season.
Can the Packers finally get their run game going?
Running back Aaron Jones is listed as questionable. Obviously, he is going to have to play a key role in the Packers’ offense getting the ground game going. In four games, the run game has been abysmal for the Packers, who currently rank 29th in yards per rush with just 3.3.
However, even if Jones can’t go, this week they’ll face a Raiders defense that is allowing 134 rushing yards per game, ranking 26th in that category. Las Vegas is also allowing 4.3 yards per carry, which ranks 19th, and the 14 rushes of 10 or more yards that they’ve given up is the sixth most. From a statistical standpoint, this will be the worst run defense that the Packers have faced this season. AJ Dillon behind a healthy offensive line should still have the opportunity to find some success.
While it’s easy to point fingers at a particular offensive lineman or a running back for these run game woes, LaFleur continues to reiterate that all 11 players have to be better and on the same page, along with adding that from a schematic standpoint, he has to be better as a play caller, putting the offensive line and running backs in a better position to be successful.
Similarly to what I just described on the defensive side of the ball, the Packers’ struggles in the run game on offense puts them behind the sticks and in predictable passing situations where the defense has the upper hand. The Green Bay passing game, with all of its inexperience, isn’t anywhere near consistent enough right now to shoulder that heavy playmaking workload right now. However, success on the ground should help open up opportunities in the pass game, especially against a struggling Raiders pass defense.
Improved play here starts with the offensive line playing better. If they block like they did against Detroit, the play calls don’t really matter at that point. The good news is that it looks like Elgton Jenkins will be back. I expect there to be a more concerted effort to get the run game going this week as well, especially if Jones is available.
Last week, the Lions dared Green Bay to throw the ball, which they tried to do but were ineffective, and before they knew it, the offense had run 11 plays but was down 24-3. The opportunity to get the run game going was never truly there. I would guess the pendulum swings back in the other direction this week.
Don’t let Maxx Crosby or Davante Adams take over
Of course, this is easier said than done, but if the Packers can prevent Davante Adams and Maxx Crosby from completely dominating this game, Green Bay should have the upper hand against the Raiders.
Even with some uncertainty at quarterback, Adams continues to play at an extremely high level. This season, he has caught 33 targets through just four games, totaling 397 yards with three touchdowns. He ranks 11th overall in yards per route run–an efficiency metric.
Adams will move around the formation frequently, so even if Jaire Alexander (who is questionable) is able to play, we won’t see him on Adams 100 percent of the time. The challenge for the Green Bay defense, outside of guarding Adams, is the balance that they will have to strike with defending him.
If they try to limit Adams’ big play ability and sit in Barry’s patented cover-2 look, then Green Bay will be exposed in the run game and in the underneath routes that Jimmy Garoppolo likes to take advantage of. If they commit to trying to slow the run, then Adams may be in a one-on-one situation.
As far as the overall game plan goes, the Packers don’t have to choose one approach over the other. How they defend the run, and Adams will be fluid, depending upon the situation. However, within one specific play, a defense can’t emphasize taking away both the run and pass games–Green Bay is going to have to choose on each down, which, as LaFleur said, is all a part of the chess match.
On the other side of the ball for the Raiders is Crosby, who has the ability to wreck any game. He is currently tied for first among all edge rushers in pressures created this season. Green Bay should be wary of running the ball in Crosby’s direction and on passing plays that they can’t double-team him, utilizing tight-end chips and the quick game should be a part of their strategy as well.
There likely is no stopping Adams or Crosby. The Packers’ hope should be that they don’t let them take the game over. And if Green Bay can accomplish that, they should find success against a Raiders team that is struggling on both sides of the ball.
An opportunity to get back on track for the Packers
This game is going to be a good litmus test for where this Packers team is because it is one that they should win. As already alluded to, outside of Adams and Crosby, this is a Raiders team that has struggled this season. On either side of the ball, basically pick a key metric, whether it’s points per game, red zone performance, third downs, etc., and the Raiders likely rank in the bottom half of the league and, in a few instances, will be near the bottom.
In addition to that, the Packers have had additional time to prepare for this matchup and appear to be trending in the right direction health-wise, with there being the potential that for the first time this season, Jordan Love could have all skill position players available and the current preferred five on the offensive line on the field as well.
The Packers are the better team from top to bottom in this game, and although inexperience will lead to inconsistencies, as we’ve seen, you’d like to see them put together four quarters of good football–or close to it. They will have the opportunity to build some momentum heading into the bye week.
Final Thoughts on Packers vs. Raiders
– I mentioned previously that Garoppolo likes to throw underneath routes. About 53 percent of his total pass attempts have come within nine yards of the line of scrimmage, and just over 50 percent have come between the hash marks. The Green Bay defense will have to do a good job of muddying up the middle of the field.
– The Packers defense needs to be able to capitalize on the turnover opportunities that come their way. The Raiders currently rank last in turnover differential at minus-nine this season, and Garoppolo leads the NFL in interceptions despite playing in only three games.
– The Raiders run game has not been good this season, but neither has the Packers run defense. Jacobs led the NFL in rushing last season and has been one of the best at breaking tackles. Green Bay cannot rely on being able to stop the run from their nickel package. There will have to be times when they devote an additional defender to the box.
– Also, don’t forget about Jacobs in the passing game. He has been one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL through four games, leading all backs in targets and yards while averaging close to 10 yards per catch.
– For the first time this season, Rashan Gary was not on the Packers injury report this week. Perhaps he will be back to playing on a full snap count this week?
– This was Eric Stokes’ first week back at practice, and frankly, I was a little surprised to see he was listed as questionable. With being on the PUP list, the Packers have three weeks to add him back to the 53-man roster. When they do, that means a corresponding cut will have to take place. My guess is that he is still out, and the Packers give him the bye week to work back and themselves that time to do some roster maneuvering.
– It’s not only the offense and defense that have battled ups and downs, but the special teams unit as well. Penalties, poor kick returns, bad starting field position, a punt allowed for a touchdown, and more have all been issues through the first four games. While the roster as a whole experienced turnover, eight of the top 10 players from 2022 in special teams snaps for the Packers are still on the roster.
– In addition to Love potentially having his full complement of skill position players, this is also a banged up Raiders secondary that he will be going up against. The Raiders are giving up 337 passing yards per game this season.