The Green Bay Packers’ defense was bad in Week 1. One rough game early on could be an anomaly, but the next two games will determine what kind of identity this defense will have, starting with the Monday Night Football game against the Detroit Lions.
The offensive obviously has to show up too, but this isn’t the same Lions team the Packers are used to. They have a new head coach in Dan Campbell. Jared Goff is now their starting quarterback. Old friend Jamaal Williams will be the competition for two games this year. We all know what he is capable of, and he’ll be sharing carries with talented D’Andre Swift. Detroit also has a group of young receivers who helped score 33 points last week, including former Wisconsin Badger Quintez Cephus and Equanimeous’ brother Amon-Ra St. Brown.
But the Packers should also be concerned with another Goff target: T.J. Hockenson. The dangerous tight end could have a Pro Bowl season, and if Week 1 is any indication, the Packers better keep him covered.
The Iowa native was drafted as the eighth-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Hockenson played in 12 games his rookie year, scoring two touchdowns with 32 receptions and 367 yards in 12 games. He basically doubled those numbers in his sophomore season. He had 67 receptions, 723 yards, and six touchdowns and played in all 16 games that year.
During the 2019 season, Hockenson only played in one of the two meetings against the Packers. He had four receptions for 21 yards in Week 6 and was placed on injured reserve in early December. In 2020, he caught four passes for 62 yards in Week 2, and in Week 14, Hockenson caught six for 43 yards and his first touchdown reception against Green Bay.
So far, the Packers have held the talented tight end in check pretty well. But going into his third year, the Packers need to really focus on where he is on the field.
Depending on what projections or rankings site you read in the offseason, Hockenson was predicted to have a solid season with a very high ceiling. He was in the top 10 on most tight end lists, and overall player and fantasy rankings had him between 50 and 60.
Like Robert Tonyan, Hockenson also works out with fellow tight end George Kittle in the off-season. He struck up an immediate relationship with Goff after he arrived, and they became fast friends. Hockenson even traveled to California several times earlier in the year to spend time with Goff.
Because I played against him in both of my fantasy football leagues last weekend, I am well aware that Hockenson had a great start to the 2021 season. I’m sure part of the fun for him was trying to outplay his buddy Kittle. Hockenson had eight catches for 97 years and a touchdown. In his first game, his catches and yards were more than he notched in any individual game last season. He’s on pace for 150 catches for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns, which would be historic. It’s not going to happen, but still. However, the Packers need to have a game plan for him while also covering their speedy receivers and containing their solid running game. Green Bay should win Week 2, but it’s not going to be as easy as people think.
Packers and Opposing Tight ends
It does seem that Green Bay often gives up a lot of catches and yards to tight ends.
They gave up two touchdowns to New Orleans’ backup tight end Juwan Johnson, who had three catches for 21 yards and both scores. Their other tight end, Adam Trautman, also had three catches for 18 yards. With two red-zone touchdowns, the Packers have to know already that this can’t happen with Hockenson on Monday night.
In last year’s NFC Championship Game, they did pretty well containing Rob Gronkowski. He only had one catch for 29 yards. Their other tight end, Cameron Brate — not so much. He had three catches for 19 yards and a touchdown. They didn’t cede many yards, but giving up red zone touchdowns to tight ends doesn’t win you football games.
The Rams game was much different. Tyler Higbee had two catches for five yards. Gerald Everett had no catches with only one target. So we can’t say it’s a pattern, per se. If you look at the last regular-season game against the Chicago Bears, it flares up again. Former Packer Jimmy Graham only had two catches for five yards, but their other tight end, Cole Kmet, had seven catches for 41 yards. They didn’t give up any touchdowns to tight ends, but the defensive backs need to start looking out for these kinds of stats.
Obviously, tight ends are going to get catches and yards against your defense. Green Bay can’t ignore great tight ends when they are coming up on the schedule. Allowing Hockenson to get two touchdowns against them would not be a great way to clinch their first win of the season. I do not doubt that the Packers have considered this as part of their game plan for this week. Let’s just hope they execute that plan.