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Smith: Go Pack go

| Tuesday, September 15, 2020

So much for turmoil within the Green Bay Packers’ organization. After an offseason filled with questions surrounding the front office’s decision-making and the chemistry between star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur, the team came flying out of the gates with a blistering 43-34 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The Packers were ridiculed by executives and fans during the offseason for not selecting a wide receiver in a loaded draft class at the position, yet the offense’s skill position players thrived on Sunday afternoon. Davante Adams exploded with 14 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns, further cementing his status as one of the five best receivers in the NFL. Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard each hauled in touchdown receptions of their own, proving that the wide receiver corps the team has in place is plenty capable of supporting Rodgers and moving the ball downfield.

Speaking of Rodgers, the Packers seemed like they were ready to move on from him during the offseason after they traded up into the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select quarterback Jordan Love out of Utah State. Rodgers appeared unhappy with the decision, hoping that the team would have used its selection on a wide receiver or tight end instead to go all-in on a Super Bowl run this season after losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game last year.

Despite this disconnect with the front office, Rodgers showed that he isn’t ready to pass the torch onto Love just yet, putting on a vintage performance by going 32-of-44 for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Rodgers’ arm looked as strong as ever even at 36 years old, zipping the ball into tight windows and finding his receivers deep downfield with ease. His most impressive play of the afternoon had to be his touchdown pass to Adams late in the first half, using his legs to scramble away from the Vikings pass rush before throwing a bullet to the sideline for an incredible toe-tap grab. If Rodgers can continue to be as accurate and as mobile against the rest of the league as he was against a top-15 Minnesota secondary, then defensive coordinators need to get ready for a lot of sleepless nights this year.

Although much of the media’s focus has been on the Packers’ passing game, the backfield demonstrated that it is ready to shine and contribute to the offense’s success as well. Aaron Jones tied for the league lead with 19 total touchdowns last season, and he picked up right where he left off with 16 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. The team as a whole had 158 rushing yards, and it has room to improve even further given that rookie second-rounder AJ Dillon only had two carries for the game. 

With the Packers’ win against the Vikings, it looks as though they should have no trouble claiming back-to-back NFC North division titles. The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions duked it out in another divisional matchup on Sunday as the Bears came away with a comeback victory, but neither team appears to be a real threat given Chicago’s dysfunction on offense and the Lions’ inability to hold onto leads in the fourth quarter. However, even with a likely playoff appearance, the Packers will have a tough time getting back to the NFC Championship Game once again in a loaded conference.

The Seattle Seahawks looked extremely dangerous over the weekend with a 38-25 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Russell Wilson played exactly like a potential MVP candidate should with 322 yards and four touchdowns, and their trade for safety Jamal Adams already paid dividends as he led the defense in tackles to go along with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints held their own against the new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the defense intercepted Tom Brady twice and recently-extended running back Alvin Kamara scored one rushing and one receiving touchdown. The Arizona Cardinals also could be dark horse contenders this year following their 24-20 victory over the reigning NFC champion 49ers. Newly acquired wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a career-high 14 catches for 151 yards, and his chemistry with quarterback Kyler Murray will only get better as the season progresses. And though the Dallas Cowboys lost on Sunday night, their roster is filled with stars at almost every position, and they will almost certainly be a factor in the playoff picture.

With all of these teams having the potential to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, it will be difficult for Green Bay to separate itself from the rest of the pack. More explosive plays from the ageless Rodgers and the rest of the offense are necessary, but the Packers’ defense will also play a critical role in the team’s success. It looked up to the challenge on Sunday, as cornerback Jaire Alexander stepped up with a big safety of Cousins in the second quarter and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith continued his Pro Bowl-level play with a sack. If the Packers can maintain their top-10 scoring defense from last season, then they will certainly be in the hunt for home-field advantage in the NFC.

When Aaron Rodgers was drafted in the first round back in 2005, rumors swirled of potential discord within the locker room. Packers legend Brett Favre was ingrained as the starter, and he seemed quite surprised with the organization’s decision to select Rodgers. Reports of animosity between Favre and Rodgers were constant, and it appeared that the team had put itself in a troubling situation. Despite the reported conflict, Favre remained the starter in Green Bay for three more seasons before Rodgers proceeded to take over and develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. 

None of this means that Jordan Love will be as successful as Rodgers. Love still has a lot to prove after a turnover-filled final season at Utah State. Yet it does mean that sometimes supposed unrest within a team isn’t always as bad as it may seem. And after Sunday’s performance, Rodgers and the Packers showed that they are out to prove that they are the ones that will be controlling their narrative this season, not the media.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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