Matt LaFleur adjusts Packers' practice schedule for evening kickoff after bye week
GREEN BAY - The last time the Green Bay Packers came off a bye week they traveled to San Francisco and looked off on both sides of the ball in a 37-8 defeat Nov. 24, the worst margin in any of their three defeats this season.
It was also their second loss in a prime-time game, though the team fared well at night, going 4-2. They also went 2-1 in 3:25 p.m. CT kickoffs.
With Sunday’s game against Seattle coming off a bye week and starting at 5:40 p.m., Packers head coach Matt LaFleur and his staff took measures to ensure the team is ready to play after a week off and with an unusual kickoff time.
“I put a lot of thought into (it), just in terms of our schedule,” LaFleur said. “I’ve talked to a lot of guys that have been in these positions before and how they’ve treated it. And then you just kind of talk to your veterans and come up with a good plan. I like what we have scheduled. So, but until you go through it, you really don’t know.”
Part of the schedule dates to the end of last week, when the Packers practiced twice, including a portion outdoors. They practiced Monday as well and then put the pads on Thursday.
“I loved the intensity out there,” LaFleur said of Thursday’s session. “I loved the focus. You can feel there’s definitely a high level of focus amongst our guys right now. I think that’s a lot of the veterans, you can tell that the younger guys are feeding off of them and just their intensity level and the approach. It’s been great.”
The bigger picture for all of this being one that puts a team on the field late Sunday afternoon that is ready to hit the ground running after putting a lackluster performance on tape in Detroit on Dec. 29.
“I don’t think you really know until you go out there,” LaFleur said. “But certainly, that’s why you’re always practicing. That’s why we didn’t want to give the guys too many days off. You can never replicate the competitiveness of what an actual game is like. But I liked how we went about our business with that off week in terms of being in for a couple days, giving them off a couple days, then having two more days on the practice field, then two more days off. I thought it was just a good schedule for the guys, not to get too far removed as opposed to like a typical bye week where you just kind of cut ’em loose for six days, or whatever it is.”
Jamaal Williams hungry for playoff debut
By now, the games all run together for Jamaal Williams, having played football since he was a kid.
So ask him what’s the biggest game he has ever played in, and the Packers running back doesn’t have much of an answer.
“I ain’t going to lie,” he said. “They’re all the same to me.”
Which makes this week different.
Because this week, after the Packers host the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoff round Sunday at Lambeau Field, Williams will have a definitive answer.
“This will probably be the most-hyped game,” Williams said, “just because it’s the playoffs. First time in playoffs, and I feel like you can’t take away our first experience in anything. So this is going to be the biggest game so far.”
Williams has had three weeks to prepare. He exited the Packers' win in Minnesota in Week 16 with a shoulder injury, which kept him out of the finale at Detroit before last week’s bye.
The extra rest has helped. Williams was a full participant this week in practice, including Thursday’s padded session inside the Don Hutson Center.
LaFleur said his backup running back will be an “absolutely huge” addition.
“He’s been such an important part to our offense all season long,” LaFleur said, “not only running the football, but being in there in some of those passing situations. He’s a heck of a blocker, and we’re going to need him. And he’s going to get a lot of action this week.”
Without Williams, the Packers leaned heavily on starter Aaron Jones.
Jones had a career-high 27 touches in Detroit, including a career-high 25 carries for 100 yards. That came just six days after Jones had 25 touches in Minnesota, including 23 carries for 154 yards.
The 52 touches in consecutive games were the most of Jones’ career. Previously, his most touches in consecutive games had been 36.
Jones said he felt fine despite the heavy workload.
“I feel about the same. It’s weird, because I wasn’t really sore after that game, and I took some shots. I thought I would be sorer than normal. I was expecting to be sore, because it was one of the more physical games that I had played in this past year. So it was kind of weird to me.
“I honestly think it is adrenaline.”
It will be interesting to see how the touches are distributed with Williams available. The Packers have mostly hesitated to increase Jones’ workload unless necessary. It doesn’t get any more necessary than the do-or-die reality of a playoff game.
Regardless, Jones agreed having Williams back is important.
“It means a lot,” Jones said. “Jamaal, he does so much for us on that field. Special teams, offense, he comes in and gives me a breather and the offense continues to work. He’s a key piece. We’ve been missing him and glad to get him back.”
Kenny Clark limited in practice
After missing practice Wednesday because of a back injury, nose tackle Kenny Clark was limited for the full-pads workout held in the Don Hutson Center.
“He was really limited, but you know we’re hopeful he’ll be all right,” LaFleur said.
Clark has missed only two practices all season and it was also for back and calf injuries Oct. 17. He was listed as questionable that week but wound up playing.
Not having Clark would be a huge blow given the success Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox had against Seattle center Joey Hunt, who is battling a leg injury. Clark has 16 tackles and 4½ sacks over the last four games and would be sorely missed if he weren’t able to play.
The bug that has been going around the locker room hit nose tackle Tyler Lancaster and fullback Danny Vitale, who were held out of practice. Running back Dexter Williams missed a second straight day because of illness.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis was given his standard rest day and did not practice also.
Wary of 'Beast Mode'
The numbers present a skeptical case. In two games since returning from retirement, Marshawn Lynch has carried the football 18 times. He has gained only 41 yards.
That 2.27-yard average is far from peak Beast Mode. Inside the Packers locker room, outside linebacker Preston Smith doesn’t want to hear that.
“He’s still Marshawn,” Smith said.
His counterpart, Za’Darius Smith, agrees.
“Most definitely,” Za’Darius Smith said. “When you wrap up, everybody needs to come swarm him; he’s a guy that can put his head down and really toe that thing. As a team, we’ve been harping on that all week. When one guy gets to him, we’ve all got to come like a runner. We’ve all got to be there.
“So in this situation, if I meet him in the backfield, I’m going to just wrap him up. I’m going to hold onto him and wait on the troops to get there.”
Lynch might not be the heartbeat of the Seahawks' offense like he was during their consecutive Super Bowl runs. Now, that role has fallen to quarterback Russell Wilson.
Regardless, the Packers aren’t taking Lynch lightly. He has scored a touchdown in each of his games since returning from retirement, which he announced after the 2018 season.
“I think Marshawn has done it at such a high level for a really long time,” LaFleur said. “He’s one of the backs that there’s not too many guys that run harder than he does, and I think that’s a big reason why he’s always getting yards after contact, and he’s a load. You don’t really realize it until you see it in person, but just the effort that he brings on every play is second to none.
“I just think it takes time anytime you take that long of a layoff, and I think you’re just going to see him get better and better. We’re going to get the best version of him this week.”
Roberts’ window closed, Greene’s opening?
Rookie linebacker Greg Roberts’ three-week window to practice with the team after spending the bulk of the season on the physically unable to perform list closed Wednesday. The first-year player out of Baylor was not added to the Packers’ 53-man roster, so he reverts to injured reserve and is done for the season. He began practicing Dec. 20 after suffering an abdominal injury early in the offseason.
Safety Raven Greene continues to practice however, and there is optimism that he may be taken off injured reserve and added to the roster in the near term.
“Just continue to evaluate him and then, if and when we feel he’s ready, then we’ll bring him up,” LaFleur said.
The Packers continue to operate with one open roster spot.