Before the 2023 NFL season started, few people expected the Green Bay Packers to be playoff contenders. The Pack entered the new campaign with one of the youngest rosters in the league. The team had also had a new quarterback in Jordan Love who had started exactly one NFL game prior to this season. Yet, with one game remaining on the schedule, the Packers control their own destiny and will qualify for the postseason with a win. Here is a look at five reasons why this young Packers team is still in playoff contention:
Fifth Reason the Packers Are Still in Playoff Contention: Depth at Cornerback
The Packers secondary has dealt with a lot of injuries this season, but they have found a way to play well whenever defensive coordinator Joe Barry didn’t hurt them too much with poor schemes.
Jaire Alexander has played only six games all season due to an assortment of injuries and a one-game suspension by the team. Eric Stokes played in only three games and played defense in just two of those contests. Meanwhile, the Pack traded Rasul Douglas at the trade deadline thinking they were not going to content for a playoff berth.
According to pro-football-reference.com, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 56.3 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Ballentine this season and just 58.5 percent when throwing to receivers covered by Valentine.
Having this kind of depth at a premium position is a big reason the Packers have won eight games so far this season.
Fourth Reason: The Pass Rush
The Packers defense has struggled in part because of Barry’s poor schemes and failure to make in-game adjustments. For much of the season, the key to the Packers defense was the pass rush. If the Packers got pressure on the opposing quarterback, they could stop the opposing offense. If not, even mediocre quarterbacks often looked like All Pros.
The game Week 17 game against the Vikings was a great example of this. The Packers sacked Minnesota quarterbacks four times and recorded 14 quarterback hits and 12 pressures. The result was a Vikings offense that scored just 10 points with their lone touchdown drive was just seven yards after the Packers muffed a punt.
The Packers pass rush is the key to their defense and has helped the team remain competitive in spite of other issues the defense has faced.
Third Reason the Packers Are Still in Playoff Contention: The Return of Aaron Jones
Running back Aaron Jones has struggled with injuries all season. He has missed six full games and has been on a play count on several more. When Jones is healthy, he gives the Packers offense another dimension that the team lacks when he’s not in the lineup.
Jones’ speed and ability to cut and change direction opens up opportunities for both him and his teammates. The UTEP alum is also a dangerous weapon as a receiver.
Even at the age of 29, when Jones is healthy, he is a difference maker for the Green Bay offense.
Second Reason: The Packers Young Receivers Have Stepped Up their Game
Injuries have hurt the Packers at wide receiver and tight end as well. Christian Watson has missed a lot of time due to injuries. Last week, the team was without Dontayvion Wicks while Jayden Reed left the game at halftime due after playing through injuries in the first half.
Early in the season, the young receivers were often running the wrong patterns or not on the same page as the quarterback. In the second half of the year, they have stepped up. When injuries struck, players like Wicks, Bo Melton and Malik Heath stepped up and contributed.
First Reason the Packers Are Still in Playoff Contention: The Maturation of Jordan Love
Love has improved a lot over the course of this season. The two games against the Vikings illustrate this. The first meeting, Love had difficulty reading the Vikings different disguised blitzes and coverages.
In the first meeting, the Packers scored just 10 points. Love threw for 229 yards and one touchdown while tossing one interception. His quarterback rating was 72.1 and he was sacked four times.
In the rematch, he threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns while he ran for another. He wasn’t sacked and had a quarterback rating of 125.3.
When the Vikings blitzed, Love knew who his hot read was and threw the ball short to Kraft or Romeo Doubs. He kept his cool and surgically picked apart the Minnesota defense.
Love’s growth in the second half of the season has made a big difference to the Packers offense. He’s had a quarterback rating of 100 or more in six of the last seven games this season with one game to go.
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