On paper, this looks like a blowout in the making, as Green Bay’s roster is far superior. But do the Jaguars have a chance? We reached out to Jon Meerdink of Acme Packing Company — SB Nation’s website for all things Packers — to give us more insights on what to expect from the NFC North foe.
1. Obviously, there is a huge talent gap between these two teams, especially when looking at Green Bay’s offense versus Jacksonville’s defense. What do the Jaguars need to do defensively to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense?
Jon: I think the book on the Packers is pretty clear: contain the damage from Davante Adams as much as possible and hope the Packers talk themselves into trying to run too much. That’s basically what the Vikings and Buccaneers did, and it worked out for them. Aaron Jones is a legit talent, but Adams is the one who really gashes defenses, and if you can stop the big chunk plays, you’ve got a good shot. Semi-tricking the Packers into inefficiency is the best way to slow them down.
2. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay’s defense has been decent when looking at the raw numbers, ranking in the top-13 in the league in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense. But it appears Packers fans aren’t all that thrilled with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and Green Bay actually ranks 21st in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. Even with rookie quarterback Jake Luton set to start his second game, could the Jaguars expose the Packers’ defense?
Jon: I wouldn’t bet against it. I wrote a piece last week about how regularly Mike Pettine’s defenses give up career-best performances to opposing players, and then two days later Richie James went out and caught nine passes for 184 yards. That’s the same Richie James who had a grand total of zero catches this season prior to the Packers/49ers game. Pettine’s defenses in Green Bay have routinely been less than the sum of their parts, and nothing would shock me. Maybe this is Jake Luton’s coming out party?
3. Outside of Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, who should Jaguars look to make an impact on offense? What about on defense?
Jon: On offense, you should watch for two players. Allen Lazard (a former Jaguars castoff) was the most efficient receiver in the league prior to a core muscle injury a little over a month ago, and he could be set to return this week. I don’t think he’s the “revenge game” type, but he’ll give the Packers a boost. Even if Lazard’s not back, you should keep an eye out for Robert Tonyan. He’s the most consistently productive tight end the Packers have had since probably 2011 or so. He’s a former college wide receiver and the Packers like to get him involved on a lot of short and intermediate passes where he can use his athleticism to win matchups against slower linebackers.
On defense, keep an eye on the Packers’ inside linebackers. That position has been in flux following the departure of Blake Martinez, and while it’s not really one guy to watch, per se, it’s a consistent sore spot. The Packers have thrown a bunch of bodies there — 2020 fifth-round pick Kamal Martin, 2019 seventh-round pick Ty Summers, 2020 undrafted free agent Kris Barnes, and frequently injured Christian Kirksey. None of them have really stabilized that part of the defense all that much. If you’re looking for good matchups, I’d start by probing there.
4. The Packers look like a strong contender in the NFC this season. What are your realistic expectations for Green Bay come season’s end?
Jon: If the Packers don’t make it to at least the divisional round of the playoffs (either by winning a wild card round game or earning a bye), this season will be an abject failure in my eyes. This team is too talented for a first-round playoff exit. Sure, they’re flawed, but they should at least be among the league’s final eight teams. Beyond that, if they get good matchups in the playoffs, there’s really no limit to how far they could go. But I think they’ve got to make it at least that far.
5. How do Packers fans feel about head coach Matt LaFleur and his staff overall? We briefly mentioned Pettine’s struggles, but does the future look bright with this coaching staff?
Jon: Generally, yes. There are some lingering concerns about the overall power structure in Green Bay — LaFleur doesn’t answer to general manager Brian Gutekunst, but to team president and de facto owner Mark Murphy — but overall LaFleur has been a breath of fresh air. I’m more of a Mike McCarthy apologist than most, but there’s no denying things got a bit stale at the end of his tenure. In addition to modernizing the Packers’ offense (and getting full buy-in from Aaron Rodgers, no small feat on its own), he’s cleared out a lot of the organizational cobwebs. I’ve been impressed.
6. Score prediction, and over/under the Packers scoring 50 points (I am OK with this if Aaron Jones and Davante Adams do the majority of the scoring, for my fantasy team’s sake, and also the Jaguars continue to stay in range of a top-two draft pick).
Jon: I think the Packers will stay under 50, but they’ll still crack 30. Give me a Packers victory, 31-17.