Packers Notebook - Sept. 22

Bill Huber

Another tough defense

The Green Bay Packers’ offense under first-year coach Matt LaFleur is new but has not been improved.

Through two weeks, the Packers are 26th in points per game, 30th in yards per play and 31st in yards per possession. Aaron Rodgers is back in the mediocre middle of quarterbacks from a statistical perspective.

Some of the offense’s problems are rooted in the defensive competition. In Week 1, it was the Chicago Bears, who were No. 1 in the league in scoring defense in 2018. In Week 2, it was the Minnesota Vikings, who were No. 1 in the league in scoring defense in 2017. In Sunday’s Week 3 game at Lambeau Field, it will be the Denver Broncos, who are led by first-year coach Vic Fangio.

Fangio is one of the most esteemed defensive minds in the NFL. Between regular-season and postseason games from his four years as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator and four years as Chicago’s defensive coordinator, he’s squared off against Rodgers on 11 occasions. The 49ers won all four matchups in 2012 and 2013 but the Packers went 5-2 in Rodgers’ starts against Chicago from 2015 through 2018.

From that history, what is the priority for the Broncos?

“That’s hard to decide the No. 1 on the priority list because he’s so good in many different ways,” Fangio said in a conference call. “We just have to try and make him be a normal human and not the Superman he can be many times.”

Just like last week with Rodgers and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, there is a mutual respect between Rodgers and Fangio. Fangio’s scheme is a proven success, and he’s got game-changing weapons with outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb and cornerback Chris Harris.

“They’re working through what they like and figuring out what things they’re going to show,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “The biggest thing is the personnel. They mix a lot of their personnel. They won’t match every time. Like, a lot of teams will match a nickel to sub and base against base personnel. But they’ll do some mix-matches. They’ll do base against nickel, or base against sub. They’ll go nickel against 12 personnel. They’ll run five or six defensive linemen, rush-type guys, on the field, which we saw last year when he was in Chicago.

So he’s a fantastic coach. I’m happy for him getting the opportunity after so many years being a great assistant in the league. I haven’t spent a lot of time with him, but I have a ton of respect for the way he’s gone about his business during his career.”

Davis traded

A couple days after claiming cornerback/returner Tremon Smith off waivers from the Chiefs, the Packers traded receiver/returner Trevor Davis to the Raiders, reportedly for a sixth-round pick.

Smith was fourth in the league last season with a 26.8-yard average on kickoff returns. He didn’t return punts for Kansas City but did at Central Arkansas.

“Special teams really can change the whole swing of the game,” Smith said. “All special-teams coaches preach on that and everybody knows that. You can easily get a fumble, set up the offense with field position.”

Miller time

Denver’s best player is Miller. The second overall pick of the 2011 draft, Miller is in his ninth season. In his seven healthy seasons, he’s gone to the Pro Bowl each year and averaged 13.3 sacks. Miller had 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season but doesn’t even have a quarterback hit this year, let alone a sack.

“He has a very big arsenal of things that he does well,” said Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who will face Miller for most of the game. “Maybe a lot of people think he can just turn a corner and be a speed rusher, but he has really good power, as well. With that speed and power combination, that’s what makes him so good. If you just try to set for his speed, he’ll turn it into a bull rush and walk you back to the quarterback. He’s got everything that you’d want from a pass-rusher.”

The other Aaron

Coming off the fourth 100-yard game of his career, running back Aaron Jones enters the week ranked 11th with 155 rushing yards. According to Sports Info Solutions, he is fourth among backs with nine forced missed tackles.

“Objectively, it looks really good. Subjectively, it’s really impressive just to see the work he puts in during the week,” Rodgers said. “On the field, he’s a slashing runner who’s very slippery. He doesn’t take a lot of squared-up shots. Aaron gives you that slashing mentality with the speed.

He really has the speed to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. He had a great run in the game where we basically had an unblocked guy in the hole and he bounced off the tackle and stiff-armed. It was a zero or half-yard or 1-yard gain maybe, but it was fantastic play. It should have been a 2-yard loss. That’s what he does. He has that incredible balance, which is one of the things you can’t teach.”

Jones had a career-high 23 carries and 27 touches vs. Minnesota. Considering his injury history, the Packers will want to be careful to not give Jones so much work that he’s worn down by the end of the season.

“When I first saw him when he came up with them, I looked out and said, ‘Where’d they get this guy?’” Fangio told reporters in Denver. I think he was a sixth-round pick [fifth round], and I’m saying. ‘Jeez.’ He’s powerful. He’s got really good balance. He runs tough. He’s a capable pass receiver out of the backfield. They do everything with him. They got a steal there.”

Situational dominance

The Broncos have had little trouble moving the ball — they’re fifth in yards per possession — but they’ve had all sorts of trouble scoring. They enter the game ranked 28th with 15.0 points per game. What’s the disconnect? A No. 19 ranking on third down (33.3 percent conversion rate) and a No. 30 ranking in the red zone (28.6 percent touchdowns).

On the other side of the coin, Green Bay’s defense is No. 3 on third down (25.0 percent) and No. 1 in the red zone (no touchdowns).

“I think we’ve been in two very low-possession games, so you hurt yourself when you get into field-goal range or you don’t quite get into field-goal range,” Denver quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Obviously, you’re going to play some games throughout the year that you don’t score a ton of points and you have to win them that way.

I think this past Sunday (against Chicago) was one of those games. When you look at those stats after two games, it’s tough to really tell much about it. I think we’re definitely gaining the confidence that we can be a really good offense, we just have to go out there and really start to do it.”