The Packers’ 2017 schedule is no walk in the park. With at least a handful of playoff teams from 2016 and one in the Falcons that the Packers could not beat in the NFC Championship game, the difficulty level has been ratcheted up from 2016. The importance of a fast start comes into sharp focus with the weeks one and two match-ups against the Seahawks and Falcons. A 2-1 record to start the season is not impossible but will prove difficult especially considering the ATL game is an away game week two. So how do the Packers get off on the right foot? Here are my three keys.
1. Get Rodgers going early
I know it sounds obvious, but Aaron Rodgers took several games to return to form last year and that had a big part to play in our 4-6 start. The addition of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks should help, along with the discovery of Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski. The offense needs to hit the ground running and that starts with Aaron. Nelson should be back on the second year after knee surgery and Cobb should be healthy. Adams is primed for another great year as long as he can stay healthy and showed he was able to be the go-to guy when Nelson was out. No excuses, no slow start. This offense should be scoring in the upper 20’s on every team they play with a chance to break 30. The Seahawks hang their hat on dominating defense and the Falcons D is underrated. The Packers need their franchise quarterback to be hitting on all cylinders from the get-go, including shorter step drops and a methodical short passing game that takes advantage of the mis-matches that Bennett brings.
2. Find middle pressure
The Packers’ pass pressure needs to get off to a great start as well. With Matthews and Perry on the outside, the outside rush should be there. but typically we have had to get inside pressure by moving Clay inside. This is not ideal. If Kyler Fackrell or Jayrone Elliot turn it on, the Packers may have the flexibility they need with Clay. But more likely we are going to be limited more than in past years to keeping Clay on the outside. If Josh Jones comes on strong early, that picture could change. Speed and size up the middle could be key to winning (in particular) the Falcons game. If a guy like Josh comes on or an OLB flashes enough to allow Clay to move back to the middle, the Packers could be disruptive enough to put the Falcons on their heels.
3. Achieve a more balanced run/pass attack
As great as Aaron Rodgers is, this offense is hardest to stop when there is more balance between the run and pass. With Aaron Rodgers, we never have to seek an exact 50/50 balance and need to prioritize based on the exploitation of mis-matches. But with Ty Montgomery adding weight, Rip in the mix, and three rookie RB’s fighting for a job…the Packers running game should be much more settled than it was last year. This bodes well for the offense overall and the play-action pass in particular if the running game requires respect.
A more balanced attack should also allow the team to take more time off the clock through the run game which may be a critical factor in getting off to a fast start.
All in all, if the Packers can achieve these three things, I think they have a chance to start off the season the right way…with two tough early wins. Those two wins should pay dividends of confidence too and signify that the team is headed in the right direction. The road doesn’t get any easier, but a fast start should help. Here’s hoping the Packers can pull it off.