Green Bay Packers

The Packers Must Learn From the Past To Avoid A Trap Game In Carolina

Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

After beating the Detroit Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs, the Green Bay Packers had a clear path to the playoffs. With one of the league’s easiest remaining schedules, the Packers just needed to continue their hot streak and win out.

But those playoff odds plummeted after a complete meltdown against the New York Giants and a historically laughable defensive showing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet the Packers haven’t heard no bell yet. The team still has a roughly 23% chance to make the playoffs (even after the Seattle Seahawks’ upset victory over the Philadelphia Eagles) and over 95% if they win out, thanks to tiebreakers and the general “meh”-ness of the NFC.

First, the Green and Gold must get through the Carolina Panthers, the league’s worst team. The Panthers just got their second win in front of a crowd of dozens. First-overall pick Bryce Young hasn’t completed a touchdown pass in over a month. That sounds like a great matchup for the Packers.

But Green Bay can’t let this become a trap game! Green Bay has already lost two get-right games this season, at Denver in Week 7 and at the Giants in Week 14. Vegas strongly favored the Packers in both games, but Green Bay turned them into momentum sinks. If they want a shot at playoffs, the Packers must learn from the past and play a complete game in Charlotte.

In Week 7, the Packers just blew a game against the Las Vegas Raiders after a mini-bye. Thankfully, their Week 6 bye week offered a chance to get healthy, do some self-scouting, and come out swinging. The Denver Broncos were awful then, less than a month removed from giving up 70 points to the Miami Dolphins, and an overall mess on both sides of the ball.

Instead, that game became a get-right game for the Broncos, who outplayed the struggling Packers offense. LaFleur and the offense came out to the same lackluster start they did against the Raiders. Anders Carlson missed his first kick of the season — crucial when the team ultimately lost by two. The defense held the Denver offense below 20 points. But, as always, they came up short in situational defense.

The loss in Denver was just another bad game against a lousy team that plagued the middle part of Green Bay’s season. Meanwhile, Denver carried that momentum forward, winning five of their next seven games.

Fast forward to Week 14. The Packers had a definitive victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving and won a close game over the defending Super Bowl champions. The Giants featured a third-string rookie UDFA quarterback, an extremely young offense, and the league’s worst offensive line. After the defense kept pressuring Patrick Mahomes, it seemed like they could feast as the team entered the “easy” stretch of the schedule.

Of course, anyone who’s watched a Joe Barry defense knows he can make Mahomes look like Tommy DeVito one week and make DeVito look like Mahomes the next. Green Bay’s pass rush couldn’t turn pressures into disruption. When the offense provided a glimmer of hope by taking the lead late in the fourth quarter, Barry rolled out the red carpet to allow a game-winning field goal for the Giants.

That loss wasn’t all on Barry’s group, though. The offense was jumpy and took a while to settle in after the calm, collected performances against the Lions and Chiefs. And Bisaccia’s unit was the worst of the day, with crucial miss after crucial miss.

Green Bay heads to a Christmas Eve matchup against the league’s worst team. The Panthers fired their head coach, have a struggling rookie quarterback, few dynamic players, and a fanbase that hasn’t bothered to show up. For a team desperately needing momentum, this is a juicy matchup.

But the Packers can’t think that way.

The offense started slowly against the Broncos and Giants, the defense gave up big plays at inopportune times, and special teams was lacking. So it’s easy to say, don’t be bad in all three phases, and you’ll win. What tangible steps can Green Bay take to avoid this becoming a trap game?

Start fast on offense. Matt LaFleur did a sneaky thing against the Lions, choosing to receive the ball first rather than defer. They tried against the Giants but failed. LaFleur needs to be aggressive immediately to get his QB slinging early, establish the run game, and give the defense cushion. Carolina runs a version of the Fangio system, which the Green Bay offense is familiar with, so hopefully, this similar scheme is something they can deal with.

Realistically, this defense only works when the offense gets a big lead. Barry’s group can’t be trusted to be aggressive or to adapt, so Green Bay’s offense needs to determine how Carolina’s offense operates. Force Young to beat you, something he has yet to show the ability to do. The Packers haven’t been great about generating turnovers, especially interceptions, so put the Panthers’ offense in a position to make mistakes.

Also, if special teams can be simply average, that would be helpful.

It’s hard to provide further advice than that. The Packers just need to execute in a way they haven’t against bad teams this year. Any given Sunday and all that, but Green Bay plays down to an opponent’s level too easily. LaFleur needs to generate momentum early on offense with a solid game plan, not forgetting Aaron Jones exists, and not getting too cute in situational football. If the offense can carry the game, as they have done so many times since the Aaron Rodgers era, they can build toward a playoff push.

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Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

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