Analysis: Packers learning ways to win with Brett Hundley
The Green Bay Packers just might have found their identity with Brett Hundley as their quarterback in the second half at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Even with Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) out with injuries, coach Mike McCarthy kept the clock turned back to the 1980s and found an offensive rhythm by pounding running back Jamaal Williams down after down, and mixing in Hundley passes off that.
The result was several effective drives — two that put points on the board and another that should have but for a botched hold on a field goal — to close out the Packers’ 23-16 win over the Chicago Bears.
This is how the Packers have to play with Hundley only three starts into his NFL career. They can’t make a living having him throw down after down. He can’t keep the chains moving that way because he doesn’t make the quick decisions and have the anticipation of quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees to complete pass after pass.
Twice on the Packers’ first possession alone, Hundley had passes broken up because he threw too late, after the receiver had made his break instead of just before.
So if the Packers try to just spread the field and put most of the game on Hundley, it’s not going to work. He’s more Alex Smith than Rodgers at this point.
What they did while closing out the game gives them their best chance. On their last three drives they had 17 called runs and eight called passes. On first down on those drives they ran eight times and passed twice.
It wouldn’t have worked if they didn’t run the ball at least OK. They averaged 3.0 yards on those first-down carries, which isn’t great but is good enough to stay ahead of the sticks. Three yards on first down is a win.
That, in turn, helped set up passes such as an 18-yard completion to Davante Adams on a first down early in the fourth quarter. Bears linebacker Christian Jones bit hard on the run fake to Williams, which left room behind him for Hundley to hit Adams over the middle for the big gain.
What made the run-first, run-often approach stand out even more is that everyone in the stadium knew coach Mike McCarthy was going to run the ball on a lot of those plays, but they still worked. These weren’t spread-the-field run calls; it was power football. A lot of the credit goes to the offensive line, which was missing only one starter (Bryan Bulaga) rather than the usual two or three.
But Williams was a big factor, too. Though he’s not a huge back (213 pounds), he’s a physical runner and seemed to run more aggressively and freely than he did on his handful of carries before this game. His numbers weren’t impressive (67 yards, 20 carries, 3.4-yard average) but he picked up some tough yards, looked like a solid one-cut zone runner and even displayed a jump cut he hadn’t shown before on one six-yard run. He also has a good forward lean to pick up an extra yard.
Playing in that run-oriented rhythm, Hundley then showed real NFL quarterback ability with his two big throws that won the game.
His 19-yard touchdown to Adams was reminiscent of Rodgers: While scrambling to his right, he saw a defensive back’s head turned and threw to Adams’ back shoulder at the front corner of the end zone, where only Adams could get it, for the score.
The other came on a third-and-10 with little more than two minutes to play. Maybe Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought McCarthy would just run the ball and punt rather than risk having Hundley throw. Or maybe Fangio didn’t think Hundley would push the ball down field on such an important play.
But Fangio rushed six, and Hundley stayed in the pocket, rather than bolt as he has been wont to do, and threw on the money to Adams for 42 yards that allowed the Packers to burn more clock with a touchdown lead.
The way McCarthy called his offense Sunday is a big change from when Rodgers is the quarterback. But it’s the way he has to play to give his team a chance to win as he develops Hundley.
Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark have been mainstays against the run all season and were a huge reason the Packers beat the Bears.
Chicago’s offense is built entirely around running back Jordan Howard, who came into the game as the NFL’s fifth-ranked rusher. The Packers held him to only 54 yards on 15 carries (3.6-yard average).
Daniels (five tackles), Clark (three tackles) and for that matter Dean Lowry (two tackles) played a major role in shutting down Howard for most of the day.
A first-down play in the third quarter was emblematic. The Bears ran Howard on a zone run to the left, but Clark, Lowry and outside linebacker Nick Perry were positioned on the other side of the line of scrimmage. That left Howard with no hole to press and gave other defenders room to pursue without having to go around guys who were getting blocked. When Howard tried to cut back, Daniels was there to drop him for only a one-yard gain.
That’s how you hold one of the NFL’s better running backs to only 55 yards.
Nick Perry’s history is that he’s a much different and better player when he doesn’t have a protective club on his hand, and we’ll see over the next few weeks if that holds true again.
Perry had surgery on his hand in September and finally was able to play without the protective cast in the previous game, against Detroit. He had half a sack against the Lions but came back against Chicago with one of the most productive games in his career: three tackles for a loss (six tackles total) and three sacks.
However, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky deserves his share of the responsibility of those sacks. On two of them he held the ball way too long, and on the third he basically ran into the sack by bolting the pocket up the middle rather than just stepping up and throwing.
» The Packers probably are happy to be rid of Martellus Bennett if he didn’t want to play with Hundley at quarterback. But they are going to miss his run blocking. We saw that on the Packers’ first play, when defensive lineman Sam Acho worked tight end Lance Kendricks over on a run by Jones. Jones picked up five yards on the play, but if Kendricks had been able to hold Acho to a draw, Jones would have had enough room to cut back in the hole and maybe break out a big run. Kendricks and Richard Rodgers don’t block nearly as well from the tight end position as Bennett did.
Quarterback: In his third NFL start, Brett Hundley (110.8 rating) took care of the ball (no interceptions for the second straight week) and displayed a little better pocket presence. Grade: C+
Offensive line: Left tackle David Bakhtiari clearly is getting healthier, based on his strong game. With four preferred starters – only Bryan Bulaga is out – the line kept Hundley clean most of the day, and power blocked well in the run game. Grade: B
Running back: Jamaal Williams (67 yards on 20 carries) didn’t put up eye-catching numbers but kept the run game churning after Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) went down. Grade: B-
Wide receivers: Davante Adams had two big catches late — a 19-yard back-shoulder touchdown and a one-hander along the sidelines to convert a third down. He also had an easy drop. Jordy Nelson had a big block on Montgomery’s 37-yard touchdown run. Randall Cobb turned a short slant into a 38-yard gain but was caught from behind by a linebacker. Grade: B-minus
Tight ends: Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers had only one catch each (17 yards combined) and were shaky as run blockers. Grade: C-
Defensive line: Mike Daniels had a sack and five tackles, and Kenny Clark was disruptive in the run game again. Holding Jordan Howard to 55 yards rushing is a good day. Grade: A-
Linebackers: Nick Perry (three sacks, three TFLs) was one of the stars of the game, but this group has yet to solve the screen pass. C+
Cornerbacks: Davon House had a sack, but the group had no interceptions against rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Grade: C
Safeties: Josh Jones was a little reckless but fine (four tackles) playing in place of injured Morgan Burnett. Grade: C
Special teams: Trevor Davis caught and returned a punt from the end zone, Justin Vogel dropped a snap on a field goal and Davis had a punt return of 44 yards wiped out by a Joe Thomas penalty. Grade: D+