Jets Know Your Foe Podcast Preview – Scouting the Green Bay Packers’ Offseason

Michael Nania continues his Know Your Foe series with a breakdown of the Green Bay Packers offseason…

Coming this regular season, I will be hosting a weekly podcast centered around the dissection of the New York Jets’ opponent each week; featuring guests from the opposing perspective, in-depth looks into opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses on film, compelling statistical nuggets, matchups to watch out for, and plenty more! To preview the show, each week leading up to the season I’ll recap the offseason of one of the Jets’ opponents; this week, we look at the Green Bay Packers.

GREEN BAY PACKERS:

Franchise Outlook:

Injuries and multitude of other issues on both sides of the ball doomed the Packers to their worst season in a long time. After Aaron Rodgers went down seven games into the year with the Packers at 4-3, the team was forced to turn to third-year former 5th-rounder Brett Hundley, who had only 10 career throws under his belt prior to 2017. In the first nine starts of his career, the team went just 3-6 to close the year. The Packers finished at 7-9, their first non-playoff season and losing record since 2008; Rodgers’ first season as a starter. Their -64 point differential was their worst since 2006, and their second worst since 1990. They took a step back defensively as well, as their 26th-ranked scoring defense was their worst ranking since 1986.

Despite all of that ineptitude (by their mammoth standards), make no mistake about it. The Packers are in this thing to win it all, as long as Aaron Rodgers is wearing green and gold. The man is simply one of the greatest to ever do it, and as long as he is in uniform, this team is going to have a chance. From 2011-16, the Packers never had a top ten defense by scoring or yardage, and they only had a top ten rushing attack once. Yet, Rodgers led them to a winning record and the playoffs every one of those years. Even in 2017, the Packers were 4-3 with a +3 point differential with Rodgers at the helm, despite playing five eventual winning teams. Without him, their point differential dipped to -67 even though they played fewer winning teams. Simply put, Rodgers is an all-time great who elevates his entire organization, and his mere presence will make the Packers championship contenders until his body gives out.

2017 Strengths and Weaknesses –

Positives:

Offensive:

  • 5th in rushing yards per attempt (4.5)
  • 11th in rushing touchdowns (13)
  • 12th in passing touchdowns (25)
  • 2nd in punt return average (10.7)
  • 13th in 3rd down conversion rate (39%)
  • 9th in 4th down conversion rate (54%)
  • 3rd in red zone touchdown rate (62%)

Defensive:

  • 8th in fewest rushing yards per attempt allowed (3.9)
  • 9th in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (10)
  • 7th in fumble recoveries (11)
  • 13th in takeaways (22)
  • 6th in lowest punt return average allowed (5.7)

Negatives:

Offensive:

  • 28th in interceptions (18)
  • 23rd in turnovers (25)
  • 31st in net passing yards per attempt (5.2)
  • 21st in scoring (20.0 PPG)
  • 26th in total yards (305.7 YPG)
  • 28th in average starting field position (own 26.5)

Defensive:

  • 26th in scoring defense (24.0 PPG)
  • 22nd in total yards allowed (348.9 YPG)
  • 29th in net yards per passing attempt allowed (6.9)
  • 29th in passing touchdowns allowed (30)
  • 30th in average opponent starting field position (opponent 30.4)
  • 30th in opponent average time per drive (2:55)
  • 32nd in opponent points per drive (2.13)
  • 28th in 3rd down conversion rate allowed (43%)
  • 31st in 4th down conversion rate allowed (80%)
  • 31st in red zone touchdown rate allowed (65%)

Draft –

R1, #18: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: The numbers clearly show that pass defense was the Packers’ biggest weakness outside of losing Rodgers. Clearly, the Green Bay front office was aware of this and attacked the issue on Days 1 & 2 of the draft. Their first draft move to address the corner position was with their top-20 selection, adding former Louisville Cardinal Jaire Alexander. Alexander is an athletic, instinctive, and twitchy corner who has a ton of upside and might have instant-impact potential as a nickelback.

R2, #45: Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: Green Bay doubles up at corner with the lengthy ball-hawking Jackson out of Iowa. His pass breakup and interception numbers are insane (8 picks, 18 deflections in final season) while his size is tantalizing. However, his forty time was very disappointing (4.56, 24th percentile at CB) and his coverage technique has some holes. Still, the Packers got themselves an extremely productive collegian at a position of need with the 45th pick.

R3, #88: Oren Burks, ILB, Vanderbilt: Did I mention the Packers struggling in coverage and looked to fix it in the draft? After picking two corners, the Packers go with a cover linebacker in round three in Burks. He’s a great athlete with coverage talent despite his technique and run struggles.

R4, #133: J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri: The first of three picks at the receiver position, and not the most notable despite coming first. Moore is a raw but athletic project.

R5, #138: Cole Madison, G, Washington State: A former tackle with the athletic upside to be a guard in a zone scheme that will take advantage of his move skills.

R5, #172: JK Scott, P, Alabama: An accomplished punter at Alabama most noted for his distance and hang time. An interesting move, since Green Bay’s 2017 punter, Justin Vogel, ranked 7th in net average before being cut this offseason.

R5, #174: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, South Florida: Has incredible build and athleticism, at 6’4 with 4.37, making him worthy of a late stash pick. Is very raw, however.

R6, #207: Equaniemous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame: Yet another high-upside athletic receiver pick, as Green Bay ends the slide of the 6’5, 4.48-forty-running St. Brown. NFL.com projected him as a R3-R4 pick, while some had him going as high a round two. Green Bay clearly valued finding natural traits at the corner and receiver positions in this draft, two areas they certainly needed help.

R7 picks: James Looney, DE, California (#232), Hunter Bradley, LS, Mississippi State (#239), and Kendall Donnerson, OLB, Southeast Missouri State (#248)

Biggest instant threat to the Jets? – I am going to be cliche and select the Packers’ first round pick, Jaire Alexander, as my biggest instant threat to the Jets in particular. The reason I pick him over Josh Jackson is the matchups the athletic Alexander will have in the slot against the Jets. Jermaine Kearse got many of the Jets’ slot looks last year. While a solid route-runner with great hands and adjustment ability, Kearse certainly is not a terrific athlete. If Alexander has adjusted to the NFL game and is already a legit player by the time the Packers and Jets meet, I think Alexander’s athletic advantage might give him a chance to make some plays.

The opposite is also true, though. A savvy veteran like Kearse could also devour a young, antsy, undeveloped corner through his route running. It will be fun to see where both Alexander and Jackson are at by the time these two teams clash in late December.

Major trades:

  • The Packers sent their 2015 first-round pick, cornerback Damarious Randall, to Cleveland in exchange for quarterback DeShone Kizer, while swapping picks in both the 4th and 5th rounds of the 2018 draft. Clearly, the Packers were looking to reinvent their secondary under their new defensive coordinator, a familiar name who will be introduced later. Kizer should compete with Hundley to be Aaron Rodgers’ backup.

Notable losses:

  • S Morgan Burnett, signed with Steelers: Burnett started 102 games for the Packers over his eight years with them after being drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft. He had a solid 77.1 PFF grade last year.
  • WR Jordy Nelson, cut and signed with Raiders: After ten seasons, 136 regular season games, 13 playoff games, 8516 total yards, 74 total touchdowns, and 1 ring,  Nelson leaves Green Bay fifth on their all-time regular season receiving list and second in touchdowns. The Packers’ decisions to move on from these two and triple-up in their respective position areas are indicative of their commitment to a new era of youth.

Notable additions:

  • DE Muhammad Wilkerson, signed from Jets for 1 year, $5 million: The man who graces the title image of this article, the former hometown golden boy and face of the defense in Florham Park, was unceremoniously released and forced to take a one-year deal in Wisconsin. It’s kind of sad how Wilkerson fell from favor, dropping from Pro Bowler and arguable top-3 defensive end to sluggish statue, but at the end of the day it was all his fault for a rapidly decreasing lack of effort and production. Wilkerson should start on the Packers’ defensive line; we’ll see if a contract year and a winning organization gets the most out of him.
  • TE Jimmy Graham, signed from Seahawks for 3 years, $30 million: The Packers needed a new weapon at tight end after Martellus Bennett’s retirement (he disappointed anyway with only 233 yards), and picked up the market’s top name. Graham wasn’t quite as featured in Seattle, not coming close to the dominance he displayed in New Orleans, but he remains a matchup nightmare and a red zone mega-weapon.
  • CB Tramon Williams, signed from Cardinals for 2 years, $10 million: Williams played the first eight seasons of his career in Green Bay from 2007-14 after going undrafted out of Louisiana Tech. He made 28 regular season picks and 4 playoff picks as a Packer before skipping to Cleveland, then to Arizona where he played in 2017. Williams is 35, but is coming off of a season where he was PFF’s 8th-best graded cornerback.

Most damaging loss?

I think each of the mainstay losses on offense and defense will be impactful. Nelson had a down 2017 with under 500 yards and is up there in age, but he had over 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns just one year before and has always had special chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. That innate connection is a hard thing to replace, but the Packers do have a lot of receiving talent to try and make up for it.

Burnett will also be an important loss. The Packers are mixing in a ton of young talent into their secondary, and having a veteran in the back end can be very helpful. The Packers did go out and bring back Williams, though, mitigating Burnett’s loss.

To be brutally honest, other than the leadership factor, I don’t think the Packers lost much from these two in terms of potential production going forward.

Most threatening free agency/trade addition to the Jets? 

I’ll grab the low-hanging fruit and say Graham. Everybody who has watched a Jets game in the past 5 years or so knows how much this team struggles to cover tight ends. Jamal Adams had a stretch where gave up 4 TDs to tight ends in 3 weeks. Graham has always been a red zone behemoth; all 10 of his 2017 TDs were in the red zone, the most red zone TDs in the league. It will already be late in the season by the times these teams connect, but Graham will be a great measuring stick for the progress of the Jets defense, Jamal Adams and Darron Lee in particular.

As much as it pains me to say, I think Muhammad Wilkerson is going to be very motivated this season and have a productive year. Players of his ilk, talented and athletic defensive ends, devastated the Jets’ offensive line last year, in particular Brandon Shell. If Mo is back to producing like 2015 Mo, he will definitely be a problem if the Jets are getting the same level of offensive line play they got in 2017.

Jets Connections –

  • You’ve already read about Wilkerson joining the Packers. You might remember Wilkerson’s joyous exit from Lambeau Field in 2014 after being ejected due to a scuffle.
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  • The Packers fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and replaced him with former Jets DC and Rex Ryan buddy Mike Pettine; the DC in Florham Park when Wilkerson was drafted.
  • Green Bay also fired offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, and replaced him with Joe Philbin, who was previously the assistant head coach and OL coach in Indianapolis. Philbin coached the rival Dolphins from 2012-15, going 3-4 against the Jets. His last game as head coach of the Dolphins was in Week 4 of 2015, when the Jets trounced the Dolphins 27-14 in London.
  • Jimmy Graham averaged 114.5 yards per game in his two matchups against the Jets, his highest average against any opponent. Both games were at MetLife; a 2013 Jets victory over the Saints, and a 2016 Seahawks victory over the Jets.

Synopsis –

The Packers looked to have a very prudent offseason. The injury to their worldly quarterback got most of the attention, but they clearly had other issues they needed to take care of. They didn’t hesitate to fix the things they needed to fix, attacking their holes with an aggressive mindset. They fired both coordinators, cut ties with declining veteran fan favorites, stockpiled draft picks, overloaded selections at positions of need, and added win-now vets at relatively affordable costs.

I am really impressed with what Green Bay did. Not only do they seem to be better off for 2018, but they have planted the seeds of another reliable long-term supporting cast around Aaron Rodgers. I would be surprised if they did not return to the playoffs this year.

Thanks for reading, and make sure to keep an eye out for the Know Your Foe Podcast coming this preseason! Stay tuned for the rest of my Know Your Foe 2018 Jets opponent previews weekly throughout the offseason; check out the entire collection here. Follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania to keep up with everything Know Your Foe and Jets!

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.