The New England Patriots defense has been inconsistent this season but delivered a very good performance versus the Buffalo Bills last week. The Bills own arguably the worst offense in the NFL, yes, but the Patriots still did what was expected of them and basically shut down the team’s attack — an encouraging outing, especially considering that the unit will face one of its toughest challenges of the season tonight.
The Green Bay Packers, after all, field an offense that is slowly hitting its groove. While the Packers still rank only 15th in the NFL in offensive scoring, they cannot be underestimated — mainly because of one man: future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, arguably a top-three quarterback in the league right now. With him behind the wheel, Green Bay’s offense always is a threat to score. New England’s defense therefore needs to be ready to the challenge.
To find out more about Green Bay’s offense, we spoke with Jason B. Hirschhorn, who covers the team as an editor for our sister site Acme Packing Co. Speaking to Jason about the group, it becomes clear that the group is slowly getting better and is nearing peak form. However, it also has had some issues so far this season — issues which the Patriots need to take advantage of should they arise again.
“Unlike in past years, the Packers have struggled in the red zone,” Jason said about a Packers offense that is good inside the 10-yard line but inconsistent between the 10 and the 20. “They have only scored touchdowns on just over half of their red-zone trips, down nearly 10 percent from a 2017 season in which Aaron Rodgers only played in six games. That drop-off has most significantly affected the overall scoring output.”
However, Jason also points out that the unit has improved recently: “That red-zone rate has reached 63.6 percent, almost identical to that of the Patriots. Meanwhile, the emergence of Aaron Jones as a lead back has helped Green Bay become one of the most efficient ground attacks in the league (No. 4 by DVOA). Now, with Rodgers’ left knee closer to full health, the offense looks more dangerous than at any time this season.”
The ground game in particular is worth keeping an eye on tonight. While the Patriots have been good in this area as of late, they have not faced the same combination of explosive aerial attack and efficient ground game since their week six tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs. And just like the Chiefs, the Packers also have a running back — the aforementioned Jones — that has big play potential written all over him.
“Jones has become one of the most dynamic players on the offense,” Jason said about the 2017 fifth-round draft selection. “Despite missing the first two weeks of the season, Jones has become the Packers’ leading rusher and averages over 6 yards per carry. With Ty Montgomery traded to Baltimore and Jamaal Williams transitioning to more of a niche role, Jones should see plenty of action Sunday in Foxboro.”
The 24-year old is not the only youngster who could pose a problem for the Patriots tonight. “In the passing game, rookie wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling has slowly established himself as a viable deep threat,” Jason said. “Valdes-Scantling’s speed (4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and size (6-foot-4 stature) make him a difficult player to cover vertically and difficult to corral in the open field.”
While Green Bay’s offensive superstars — quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Davante Adams, tight end Jimmy Graham — receive most of the headlines, the more unheralded guys like Jones and Valdes-Scantling could ultimately make the difference. After all, the Patriots like to take away teams’ primary weapons. As is often the case, the battle between the depth options and lesser-known players might be the deciding factor.