Matt LaFleur said it best after his team’s 24-10 loss to Minnesota:
“We have to find a way to convert a third down early in the game so you can run your offense. We’re running two-minute offense for half the game, so you don’t even get into what you work on all week and what you plan for. You can’t even get into your normal rhythm because you’re not moving the chains. . . You put all this time and effort into something and come up with a plan and you don’t even give yourself a chance to go execute it.”
The Green Bay Packers success or lack thereof on that key down will be a major factor if they walk off Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon as winners or as losers.
Offensively, the Packers’ well-chronicled slow starts in their past five games boil down to failing to convert on third (and sometimes fourth) down to sustain drives and develop a rhythm. Against Minnesota, Green Bay converted just 5 of 14 third-down attempts and one of four tries on fourth down. The Packers didn’t register a first down until four minutes remained in the second quarter and down 10-0.
Defensively, Green Bay must find a way to get off the field with a third-down stop to give their struggling offense more opportunities. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings were 10 of 18 on third-down attempts and converted their only try on fourth down.
A reason for optimism for the Packers offense is LaFleur said he’s ready to increase the workload of running back Aaron Jones, who’s been limited for weeks as he recovered from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 1 in Chicago.
Jones practiced all week and wore a red uniform—usually reserved for quarterbacks—to make sure he was ready to boost the run game and provide another receiving option for quarterback Jordan Love.
“He did a great job,” LaFleur said of Jones’ practice performance. “We did that (red uniform) for his own protection, making sure that people wouldn’t knock him over and anything like that. He looked good. Had a good week. Got a great attitude. Ready to cut him loose.”
While the Packers gain a playmaker, 3-5 Los Angeles may be without their offensive triggerman and leader.
Matthew Stafford sprained his right thumb in a 43-20 blow-out loss in Dallas last week and has not practiced this week. Head coach Sean McVay said he’s giving his veteran quarterback up until game time to see if he can play. If not, 27-year-old Brett Rypien will make his fourth career start.
The Rams feature one of the NFL’s most dangerous receiving tandems in Cooper Kupp and rookie sensation Puka Nacua that will test a Green Bay secondary, sans Rasul Douglas who was traded Tuesday to the Buffalo Bills.
Green Bay’s offense was plagued by six drops against Minnesota, and star receiver Christian Watson has struggled to date and not had a breakout game this season. He faces a Rams defense that yielded four touchdown passes to Dallas.
Penalties (11 against Minnesota), turnovers, and red-zone failures have hurt Green Bay during their losing skid—and they’ve been outscored 73-9 in the first half of their past five games.
There’s no magic button to push to fix the Packers issues. The solutions come from within. The message from LaFleur is to keep working.
“We have to continue to fight and scratch and claw and try to find ways to improve,” he said. “I know everybody’s frustrated. I’m frustrated. It’s certainly not for a lack of effort, but ultimately in this game, that only gets you so far. You have to go out there and execute and give yourself an opportunity to win games.”
Week 9 NFL Picks
Packers 24, Rams 21
Getting the ball in Aaron Jones hands is the key for the Packers, who catch a huge break if Matthew Stafford can’t play. Will be interesting to see the scripted plays LaFleur opens the game to get his offense off to a faster start. Packers defense (Gary and Smith) must stop the run and pressure Rams QB into mistakes. Limiting penalties and winning turnover battle are paramount to a Green Bay’s success.