By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ greatest challenge coming out of the bye week is simple: Next series up.
Aaron Rodgers-centric team must change from “pass first” to “1st down” first
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The Packers (4-3) should look no further than the first down stick to see their future. That goes for the offense and the defense in a season that has been turned upside down by injuries, culminating with Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone.
All of the preconceived goals: The NFC North Division title, a first-round bye and a spot in the NFC Divisional playoffs, with a rematch vs. Atlanta – or whomever – the NFC Championship.
The time for resetting the bar is past.
That was one of the purposes of the bye week.
Now it’s time to determine how to best proceed.
Here’s a to-do list:
** Aaron Jones must be established as the lead running back. That means he gets 75-percent of the rushing attempts in the foreseeable future.
Where would the Packers be without Jones? My guess is 3-4.
I doubt they defeat the Cowboys in Dallas without Jones’ 100 yards-plus breakout performance. Less time should be spent on how to utilize Ty Montgomery – the unseated incumbent – and more on how to feature perhaps the most explosive weapon in a suddenly depleted arsenal.
Jones should be given every chance to use his running skills to become the preferred way to move the football. Whether head coach Mike McCarthy elects to do that with base personnel – two wide receivers, a tight end, a fullback and Jones – or some other variation is up to him.
What matters is that Jones’ success becomes a team goal. When he plays well, the Packers have a chance to compete.
Montgomery’s reduced role seems clear: He is the back who spells Jones in the first three quarters, enters the game to attack a specific favorable match-up, and is used to run the clock with a lead in the final six minutes of a game.
The sooner that happens the better it is for the team.
** Clay Matthews should be moved to inside linebacker. Pair him next to Blake Martinez, rather than opposite Nick Perry, and the linebackers become more explosive and dangerous.
Is there a better chance to get to the opposing quarterback with Jake Ryan or Kyler Fackrell/Vince Biegel on the field? The answer is obvious, but only if Fackrell develops or Biegel emerges as a legitimate pass-rush threat.
Ahmad Brooks’ comeback from concussion and back problems is significant. Brooks is a proven pass rusher and Matthews’ move to the middle also could pave a way for him to play more.
Either way, the Packers’ defense is better with Matthews in the middle, especially with Martinez’s development. Suddenly, what not so long ago was a weakness isn’t anymore.
** The double-tight end formation needs to become a staple. That is unless McCarthy elects to go with more triple-tight end formations.
Either way, the lame-duck Martellus Bennett, the under-used Lance Kendricks and the afterthought Richard Rodgers need to be on the field more.
That should be obvious to everyone from Brett Hundley, who benefits by their presense, to the running backs and the offensive line, who do likewise.
Does the offense still run through the receivers? Yes.
The difference is that the running game and short- to intermediate passing game must set up the perimeter passing attack. It’s going to be Jones, Montgomery, Bennett, Kendricks and co. who must light the fuse for Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb.
** Brett Hundley needs to take Rodgers’ advice and R-E-L-A-X. It’s easier said than done, but Hundley’s advantage is that he’s been here for three-plus seasons. If McCarthy didn’t believe in him by now, he’d have been long gone.
He’s diminishing his edge if he acts like it’s his first day on the job. This isn’t about replacing Rodgers – which is impossible – it’s about giving the other 52 players a chance to compete.
If he does that more often than not, the Packers will win games and Rodgers’ return will be relevant.