The Green Bay Packers have had problems in their last two opening games. They weren’t just beaten, they lost by large margins. Worse yet, the team didn’t seem ready to play in either of those games both mentally and physically. So, what will head coach Matt LaFleur do differently this week to end this negative trend and have his team ready to play on Sunday in Chicago?
The Packers Recent Problems in Opening Games
In 2021, the Packers opened the season in Jacksonville, Florida, against the New Orleans Saints. The Packers were crushed 38-3. Green Bay committed three turnovers and gained only 229 total yards in the game. They only gained 43 yards rushing on 15 carries and Aaron Rodgers threw two picks and finished with a quarterback rating of just 36.8.
The Packers bounced back from that terrible opening game and won their next seven contests. They finished with 13 wins that season. The Packers were the top seed in the NFC playoffs but were upset by the 49ers in the divisional round, 13-10.
More Packers Opening Game Problems
Last season, the Packers again laid an egg in Week 1. The Pack opened the season in Minnesota against the Vikings and lost 23-7. The game wasn’t as close as the score with the Packers never pulling closer than 13 points of the Vikings in the second half.
The Packers offense was inconsistent. Running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for just 15 carries as LaFleur quickly got away from running the ball. Rodgers struggled as did the offensive line which allowed four sacks in part due to injuries which caused the team to shuffle the lineup.
The defense had no answer for Justin Jefferson who finished the game with nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
In both games, both the players and coaches just didn’t seem ready to play games that counted. The play calling was subpar and unimaginative on offense. On defense, Joe Barry had no answer for Jefferson and failed to make adjustments during the game.
The most glaring example was that Barry didn’t have his top corner, Jaire Alexander, cover Jefferson regardless of where he lined up at the start of the game and was slow to change that strategy. He also employed a soft zone that the Vikings were able to exploit again and again.
A Different Approach in 2023
This year, LaFleur has taken a different approach in the training camp and in the preseason when it came to preparing for Week 1.
First, LaFleur held joint practices with two different teams to increase the level of physicality and intensity in camp. That made those practices more meaningful and competitive.
Over the last two years, the Packers hardly played any of their starters during the preseason. This year, starters who were not injured appeared in all three preseason games.
In the recent past, the experienced Rodgers did not appear in any preseason games even a year ago when he was working with new and inexperienced receivers.
This year, Jordan Love has become the starting quarterback. He has started one game in his first three years in the NFL. Love saw action in all three preseason games and sometimes went against the opposing team’s first-string defense.
The Packers Are Hopeful for a Better Start
LaFleur has changed his approach to preparation this year after learning from the past two poor performances in season openers.
“I just think there’s something to going through and getting mentally prepared to go play a game, and doing that before it really counts,” LaFleur said. “I think that makes a big difference. We’ll find out. That’s a theory that I have. We’ll find out.”
Love also thinks the team is better prepared for the season this year than they were in the past two years. “It’s all about starting fast,” Love told ESPN. “I feel like that’s something we weren’t doing in the past, and it’s just kind of eye-opening that mistakes happen, and you’ve got to overcome those when they do happen. And I think that’s one thing that just kind of put us behind the [eight] ball in the past season openers. But we’re all ready for this thing to start. So, I think all of our focus and attention will be there for Week 1.”
The season starts Sunday in Chicago. The Packers need to be ready to play both physically and mentally to earn a big division win and to get the season off to a good start.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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