Packers' failed red-zone ventures steal some luster from 43-point production
GREEN BAY - Even after getting 43 points in the Green Bay Packers’ highest-scoring opener in more than 100 years, coach Matt LaFleur couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.
It was nothing more than a footnote by game’s end, but Sunday’s opener at the Minnesota Vikings couldn’t have had a much shakier start. The Packers failed to find the end zone in their first three red-zone trips, scoring only six points on two field goals. The three trips included the Vikings’ goal-line stand, when they forced an incompletion from Aaron Rodgers, who targeted Davante Adams on a quick slant from the 1-yard line.
“I was very, very, very upset after a few of those red-zone trips,” LaFleur said Monday, “especially the fourth down when we don’t convert.”
The turnover on downs, second in the trilogy of failed red-zone ventures, recalled last season’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game, LaFleur called several unsuccessful pass attempts from the 1-yard line, something he declined to do in favor of more conventional run plays in similar situations later in the season.
That tendency returned Sunday in Minnesota. The Packers tried to throw on a Rodgers rollout but couldn’t find anyone open. After Aaron Jones was stuffed on third down, Rodgers threw incomplete to Adams on fourth.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” LaFleur said. “I wish we would've called some different plays, but we didn't.”
The start was certainly less than ideal, but what preceded those red-zone trips was a precursor to the three quarters that followed. On their first drive, the Packers marched through the Vikings' defense for 63 yards on 13 plays. On their second, they gained 74 yards on 12 plays. They gained 31 yards on eight plays in their third.
Their 168 yards on 33 plays in the opening 20 minutes left no doubt: The Packers could move on the Vikings at will. That they only had six points to show for it could have been debilitating to a group still trying to find its rhythm.
As upset as he was with not being able to finish those drives, LaFleur was even more impressed that his offense didn’t allow those failures to dictate the rest of the game.
“A lot of times,” LaFleur said, “you can't recover from that, and those can be those self-inflicted wounds.”
Alexander benefits from miscue
If you’re going to make a mistake, make it like Jaire Alexander made his Sunday in the second quarter at Minnesota.
Alexander was supposed to be in coverage when he sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins for a safety. Repeat: It was not a designed blitz. Alexander had left someone open, rushing into the backfield because he believed Vikings receiver Adam Thielen’s pre-snap motion signaled a run.
Alexander was wrong. As Cousins dropped back with the football, he realized Cousins was throwing. By then, it was too late. He was already committed.
So Alexander did the only thing he could do. He kept going.
Alexander chuckled when asked what defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told him upon returning to the sideline. On Monday, LaFleur praised Alexander while also making clear the corner was fortunate.
“I think it’s a fine line,” LaFleur said. “You gotta be extremely careful when somebody does something like that. They short motioned down the receiver and he was playing the crowd corner, and he thought it was a run, so he shot his guns. If they were running the football, that’s exactly what we want him to do. But to his credit, he felt like he was already committed and too far along that process, and just continued on and made a heck of a football play.”
A different victory Monday
Even with the NFL season in full swing, the Packers are still altering their normal weekly schedule as they adhere to strict COVID-19 restrictions.
The Packers held their team meeting Monday just as they would after any game, win or lose, only this was different. Unable to have more than 15 people in the same room because of social-distancing guidelines, LaFleur spoke with players remotely. From his head coach’s office, LaFleur conducted a Zoom call as players watched from their individual position rooms.
The Packers did the same for offensive and defensive meetings.
“That’s just kind of the time we’re in right now,” LaFleur said, “and that’s one of the restrictions that the NFL and NFLPA came up with for one of the rules. We’re going to follow those rules and try to make it work the best we can. We felt like it was important to bring them in today to make sure that they’re able to get checked out by our training staff, get the treatment they need, and also get a flush for their body to help that recovery process.”