At halftime of Sunday’s game, I did a quick Google search to ensure the Denver Broncos hadn’t subbed in some members of their famed Orange Crush defense of the late 70s and early 80s. But sadly, turns out a number of those guys are no longer with us.
That indeed was Denver’s 32nd-ranked 2023 defense shutting out the Packers through 30 minutes. Sure, Green Bay probably expected Anders Carlson to make that field goal near the end of the half, but even managing just three points against that unit would be beyond ridiculous. I mean, they came into this game giving up nearly five touchdowns per game.
The Packers offense had two weeks to diagnose the reasons for slow starts week after week. Still, it’s a unit that looks like it’s regressing despite Aaron Jones’ return and with a healthy Christian Watson to start the game. Green Bay’s offense has no clear identity, and no reason to believe it will get a lot better soon.
I imagine a large chunk of Packer nation is already out on Jordan Love. They’ve seen enough to tell them he’s not the guy. I am not among that group. The way the organization constructed this offense, with a grand total of zero established pass-catchers, Love will get the 2023 season and likely next season to grow along with his young teammates.
Losing David Bakhtiari and the middling offensive line play has not helped matters. We could spend the next few hours rattling off examples of teams bailing on young QBs too early and falling into an endless cycle of searching for the next franchise guy. The Packers have always been among the most patient organizations when it comes to big decisions, mainly because there isn’t a frustrated owner knocking on the general manager’s door daily.
That’s not to say there aren’t reasons for concern. Love’s deep passing game remains a rumor, and he routinely makes questionable decisions. His final desperation deep ball to Samori Toure was just the latest example, and it looked a lot like his final decision in the Las Vegas Raiders game. AJ Dillon was so wide open in the flat that he might still be running had Love found him. Of course, Elgton Jenkins’ holding penalty didn’t help matters, putting the team well behind the sticks at the game’s most critical moment.
We all expected growing pains with this offense; we just didn’t expect them to be so acute. Matt LaFleur and his staff are squarely to blame for not getting this unit ready to fire in the first half of games – that’s four straight without a touchdown in the game’s first 30 minutes. As you know, the last two defenses they’ve faced are about the worst they’ll see all season.
It’s safe to say that this season is no longer about wins and losses. At this point, some of you probably wish the New Orleans Saints had made that last-second field goal, moving the Pack higher up the draft board than the seventh spot, where they currently reside.
This season is all about watching the offense’s progress, as painful as that may be. At this point, it looks like the defense will never be anything close to healthy. They were adequate on Sunday against a below-average offense. It’s hard to grade a unit that entered the game without Jaire Alexander and De’Vondre Campbell and then lost Devonte Wyatt, Darnell Savage, and Eric Stokes early on. Entering the season, the defense looked pretty good from 1-11, but the depth was a big question mark. Now, opponents are testing that depth every week.
Through six games, the Packers have played two home games and four road games. Therefore, you might assume a young team would expect to be 2-4 if you win at home and lose on the road. But the reality is that they don’t pass the eye test. With three of the next four at home, the offense has a chance to bounce back a little against four teams that aren’t sitting atop the league in total defense. However, that game in Pittsburgh may not be pretty.
With expectations and reality so different from what we’ve been accustomed to for most of the last 30 seasons, watching the 2023 incarnation of the Pack has become a bit off-putting. It will be alarming if we’re still bemoaning these same issues in December. For now, we must remember that the team went 6-10 in Aaron Rodgers’ first season – first-year starting QBs rarely achieve a ton of success.
Over the next 11 weeks, we should have a much better idea whether LaFleur, Adam Stenavich, Love, and the pass-catchers are the right guys to set the team up for the future. In the meantime, I’m going to start researching the top of the tackle market for the ’24 draft. I just really hope that a couple of months from now, I don’t start looking at the QB market, too.