Packers run game has to be defense’s best friend vs. Chargers

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) warms up before a Week 1 NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals,Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) warms up before a Week 1 NFL preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals,Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. /

Against a high-scoring Los Angeles Chargers offense that wants to push the ball through the air, the Green Bay Packers run game on offense can play a key role in helping its defense out.

Overall, the Chargers enter Week 11 ranked seventh in points per game scored. In five of their 10 games this season, Los Angeles has been able to score 27 or more points, including eclipsing the 30-point mark on three occasions.

The Packers are yet to face a team this season who can both score like the Chargers can – efficiently and effectively – and want to throw the ball as often as they do. Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert enters the game ranked eighth in pass attempts per game and fifth in pass attempts of 20-plus yards.

"“He’s the real deal,” said Matt LaFleur when asked about Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense. “There’s not a throw he can’t make. Does a great job protecting the football. Makes great decisions. Very decisive with throwing to tight windows.“Keenan Allen is a monster. He leads them. Obviously, Eckler is back there. They’ve had some unfortunate injuries but I think they’ve got a lot of playmakers that are capable of making explosion plays, but he’s the guy that drives the whole thing, obviously.”"

This will be a different challenge for the Green Bay defense. Complementary football is always an important element to any football game and something that has eluded the Packers this season, but on Sunday specifically, success in the run game for the Green Bay offense feels like a near must. Having an effective run game to lean on will not only help the offense but the defense as well.

As we saw in the Los Angeles Rams game, having an effective run game can do wonders for the Packers offense. For one, it gave them something to hang their hat on, but it also kept them out of those dreaded long down-and-distance situations and took some of the playmaking burden off of Jordan Love by opening up play-action and opportunities in the passing game, in general. When a defense has to defend both the run and the pass, they can’t be nearly as aggressive either.

Green Bay’s most recent game against Pittsburgh is a good example of how a run game doesn’t have to be ripping off chunk play after chunk play to truly feel the ripple effect throughout the offense. It was tough sledding against the Steelers, but the Packers were able to net positive plays that kept them ahead of, or at least even with the sticks and prevented them from becoming one-dimensional.

Entering Week 11, the Chargers run defense ranks smack-dab in the middle, allowing 4.1 yards per rush. By ESPN’s run-stop win rate metric, the Chargers’ defense ranks 20th.

An effective ground game will also give Green Bay the opportunity to control the clock–and this is where their defense comes into play. With long sustaining drives – even ones that don’t end in points – it will give their defense a breather and also, importantly, keep Herbert and the Chargers offense on the sidelines, which hopefully helps keep this a lower-scoring game.

"“You never know what they’re going to do offensively,” said Love on Wednesday about the Chargers offense, “but you’ve got to match them and go one step above. When the defense gets a stop, we’ve got to capitalize on that and go put up points. That’s the mindset we are always ready for.“Really, just going forward, we’ve just got to be able to put up points on every drive. Just focus on doing us. Focus on what we are doing. We’ve got to keep trust in the defense that they are going to get those stops when we need them to get those, and we’ve just got to go put up as many points as we can, honestly.”"

What the Packers don’t want to happen is for this game to become a shootout. For starters, their offense probably can’t keep up, and the defense hasn’t shown the ability to consistently come up with that crucial stop when needed.

If the offense isn’t able to sustain drives, this game could turn ugly quickly, much like the Detroit game in Week 4, where Green Bay was down multiple scores early in the game. The Packers have to slow this game down and limit the number of possessions Herbert and the Chargers have.