The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line gives them the security to operate an offense full of young players. And, for the most part, the pass blocking has been outstanding. Averaging PFF, Sports Info Solutions, and ESPN metrics, Green Bay was second overall in pass protection, just behind the Las Vegas Raiders. But run blocking was a problem against the Chicago Bears, and it has to be better for the Packers to be effective when they face the Atlanta Falcons’ much stronger defensive front at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.
Even though Aaron Jones was effective in yards per carry and EPA/play generated, it’s always interesting to see what A.J. Dillon can do. He hasn’t demonstrated nearly as much ability to create more than what the offensive line gives him. So it was concerning when Dillon got just 1.5 yards per carry. For some plays, the Packers even used 13-personnel and two snaps with six offensive linemen trying to add extra blockers. After one week, the Packers are just 25th in run-block win rate, although they are 10th in pass-block win rate.
The Falcons have a strong defensive line with Calais Campbell, who’s played mostly as an edge in 4- or 5-tech. Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata play on the interior, and Bud Dupree is the 7-tech or wide-9 edge on the other side of the formation.
They finished Week 1 at 10th in run-stop win rate. But the Carolina Panthers were still relatively efficient on the ground. Miles Sanders ran 72 yards in 18 attempts (4.0 yards per carry), while Chuba Hubbard got 60 yards in nine tries (6.7).
But the scenario won’t probably be as favorable for Green Bay as it was in Chicago. And if the Packers couldn’t generate much-expected yards before contact against the Bears, they need a better performance from the line to create consistent running production in Week 2.
Former New Orleans Saints assistant Ryan Nielsen is Atlanta’s new defensive coordinator. Most of his schematic principles are based on what Dennis Allen runs. It’s a lot of cover-2 man in nickel package. However, in obvious passing situations, they sent extra pressure or disguised their front movement with double-A gap blitz multiple times. It would be incredibly helpful for Jordan Love to avoid those scenarios, especially if the offense is missing two of their best weapons. Wide receiver Christian Watson and running back Aaron Jones haven’t practiced this week, both because of hamstring injuries.
The Packers beat the Bears, but it wasn’t exactly a sustainable way of playing. The team had negative EPA/play on first and second downs and a historically good number on third and fourth downs. Usually, the early down numbers tend to be stickier, which means to project future performance, it’s smarter to analyze what teams produce in normal down-and-distance situations.
If Green Bay keeps the bad numbers on early downs, it’s basically impossible to be as effective on crucial downs as they were in Chicago. And that happened mostly because the Packers were so inefficient running the ball — a particularly important characteristic for the Matt LaFleur offense.
The running back room
If Jones can’t go or is limited, the Packers will give Dillon the heaviest load. Initially, my idea was that it would be hard to run north-south against Atlanta’s defense, inspired by those Saints fronts. However, the tape of the Carolina Panthers game didn’t show that much force inside of the formation. Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata weren’t able to hold their gaps, and rotational nose tackle Albert Huggins did a better job. That’s good news for Dillon, who doesn’t have the ability to be effective on outside runs.
But if Jones is out and the Packers still want to have a plan similar to the one they had in 2020 against the Saints, full of outside zone and misdirection plays, rookie Emanuel Wilson should be the better option. He was inactive against the Bears because they elevated special teamer Patrick Taylor for game day. But with Jones banged up, Wilson will most likely be active and is the most effective outside runner besides the starter.
Watson’s injury status is also a big factor. The wide receiver is by far the best deep threat the Packers have, and missing him is a huge component for the entire offense. Everything is much more condensed when he is not playing. If Watson was healthy enough to play in Atlanta, it would force the Falcons’ defense to play more honestly and stretched vertically. That would allow lighter boxes and favorable formations for Green Bay to run. The problem is the Packers aren’t sure Watson will play. He said there is a bigger chance of him playing than it was last week, but his absence in practice on Wednesday and Thursday is concerning.