Expectations weren’t sky high for the Packers after losing Aaron Rodgers to a collarbone injury. However, with Mike McCarthy and the Packers having praised Brett Hundley’s abilities in the past three seasons, Packer fans certainly had hope that the third year pro out of UCLA had something to show the league.
Problem is, he didn’t get to show much of it. The Packers leaned heavily on the run early with Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery, and made things easy for Brett Hundley. The defense played well, and gave the Packers the opportunity to steal a game that many believed they had no business winning.
However, when the Packers needed a big play, it seemed that Hundley either wasn’t given a play to push the ball down the field, or he couldn’t find anyone and got flushed out. He did take a shot down the field late, but it was intercepted by Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.
All week, the Packers talked about how Hundley was ready for this opportunity and that three years of preparation gave him a great chance. However, it seemed like something was amiss on Sunday. Either McCarthy didn’t give him the “keys to the car” (a term coined by Aaron Rodgers in their America’s Game DVD), or one week wasn’t enough time to implement the plays necessary for Hundley to really get things moving.
Things will be more telling after a much needed bye week for the Packers. Here are four things we learned from Sunday’s loss.
1. Aaron Jones continues to prove he deserves more and more carries.
Ty Montgomery was the unquestioned starting running back coming into 2017. Many, including yours truly, still believe in what he can do as a runner and a receiver.
However, you cannot deny what rookie Aaron Jones has been doing so far this season. He stepped up in Montgomery’s absence against the Cowboys and put in a 100 yard performance. Now, in a game where Brett Hundley needed help, Aaron Jones provided that help. He carried the ball 17 times for 131 yards and broke through early with a 46 yard touchdown run. Fans and analysts are clamoring for him to be RB1 going forward, but I still think a committee makes sense. Ty Montgomery has produced, and shelving him is premature.
But, it’s good to see Aaron Jones emerge. Having another weapon for Brett Hundley is important going forward.
2. The bye week comes at a great time for the Packers.
I know it isn’t just me, but the play calling was odd yesterday. Hundley didn’t take many shots downfield, and some third down calls felt like “give up” plays. Plus, the Packers did keep some guys in to protect while letting only three guys run out on routes. That’s not exactly the way to success on offense. More bodies moving around in the open field creates more confusion and leads to more openings and drops in coverage.
With all that said, Mike McCarthy did only have a week to put stuff together for Hundley. It wasn’t great, but they now have two weeks to put a game plan together to get things rolling. With a big Monday night tilt against the Lions looming after the bye, a win there is important.
3. Dom Capers and the defense put in a noteworthy performance.
Any time your defense holds Drew Brees and company to under 30 points, you should feel accomplished. Dom Capers and the defense played very well yesterday. I know, it’s hard to say things like that in a loss. But, early on, the Packers got pressure and forced Brees into some bad throws. Damarious Randall had perhaps his best rep of the season staying with his man down the seam and picking the ball off in the end zone. Then, Brees tested Davon House up the sideline, but House stuck with his man and came up with another big pick.
The other big win for the Packers defense came when the Saints were knocking on the door. Although the Saints got in the end zone twice of their three times in the red zone, the Packers forced the Saints to kick four field goals. That bend-don’t-break attitude, should it continue, will be helpful in keeping the Packers in games during this stretch without Rodgers.
4. Blake Martinez is continuing to grow in his second season.
A lot of young guys are getting time on the Packers defense. Rookies Kevin King and Josh Jones have turned in plenty of snaps as rookies. Kenny Clark continues to improve in his second season on the defensive line. But, none of them compare to the work Blake Martinez is doing at inside linebacker.
Martinez was a fourth round pick in 2016, mostly because many scouts and teams believed he wasn’t suited to be an every down linebacker in a changing league. Hybrid linebackers with more speed are continuing to be the trend in the NFL.
But, Martinez is bucking the trend. How do you make up for a lack of speed? Rock solid instincts. Martinez plays so well filling holes in the run game, and he also plays well sideline to sideline on outside zone and toss plays. He has active hands and the instincts to get into passing lanes as well. If he can continue to improve, the Packers may not need to invest too much on the linebacker position in future drafts.
Where Do The Pack Go From Here?
It’s about building confidence in the offense. Give Hundley more opportunities to make plays in the passing game. That can be done while the Packers are headed into the bye week. A key match-up with the Lions looms on Monday night.
Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL, NFL Draft, and the Packers for The Sports Guys. Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13.