Grading the Pack

Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers are 4-0, in first place in the NFC North and on the short list of Super Bowl contenders at sportsbooks, where little was expected of them after reaching the NFC Championship Game last season.

Here are some unit grades with the team one-fourth of the way through its regular season.


General manager Brian Gutekunst did almost nothing to bolster a roster that went 0-2 against the San Francisco 49ers but 14-2 against everybody else. In fact, an argument could have been made the roster was a bit worse with right tackle Bryan Bulaga leaving in free agency.

Gutekunst’s first-round pick was used on quarterback Jordan Love, who is No. 3 on the depth chart. His second-round pick was used on running back AJ Dillon, who has been mostly stuck on the bench behind veteran stalwarts Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

Third-round tight end Josiah Deguara barely played due to an ankle injury and then suffered a season-ending knee injury against Atlanta on Monday night. Fifth-round pick Kamal Martin might have been the lone instant starter but he injured a knee and is on injured reserve. Moreover, veteran receiver Devin Funchess opted out due to COVID-19 concerns.

In time, Gutekunst’s draft-for-the-future approach could be like hitting the jackpot. For the here and now, will it come back to bite him? Or did he know his returning players far better than the outsiders?

Grade: D.


After losing seasons in 2017 and 2018, Matt LaFleur led the Packers to a 13-3 regular-season record in his debut season of 2019. Nonetheless, he got surprisingly little love in Coach of the Year voting.

With four more wins on the ledger to start this season, his career record is a lofty 17-3. Only George Seifert (18) has more wins by a coach in his first 20 games on the job.

What he’s done on offense is remarkable. Taking mostly the same roster as a year ago, LaFleur’s offense has gone from ho-hum to red hot.

The Packers lead the NFL with 38.0 points per game. Last year, they ranked 15th with 23.5 points per game – the same as in 2018, when Mike McCarthy was fired. There’s been a star of the week on offense, from Davante Adams at Minnesota in week one to Robert Tonyan vs. Atlanta in week four.

All the Zoom conversations between LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have paid unimaginable dividends. Week after week, Rodgers plays like one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Afterward, he credits LaFleur for his game plans and play-calling.

Defensively, it’s a different story. Green Bay is 18th with 25.3 points per game. Coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit is weak up front and lacks impact play from the inside linebackers, so some of the performance is out of his control. However, the group heads into the bye on a strong note after allowing only 16 points against the high-powered Falcons.

In some games, half the battle is simply not beating yourself. Green Bay has committed the ninth-fewest penalties (19) and is the only team with no giveaways.

Grade: B-plus.

Rushing Offense

Sort of lost in the shuffle of Aaron Jones’ dominance last season was the relative mediocrity of the running game as a whole. Green Bay ranked 15th in rushing (112.2 yards per game) and 16th in yards per carry (4.37). This year, it ranks fifth in rushing yards per game (150.8) and fourth in yards per carry (5.07).

With a combination of strong blocking up front and the ever-present jet-sweep movements that add just a bit of uncertainty, Green Bay’s backs have routinely found plenty of running room. Jones is averaging a robust 5.8 yards per carry. That’s second in the league among running backs with at least 30 carries. Green Bay has had a lot of success running straight up the middle behind center Corey Linsley and getting to the perimeter.

The only black mark has been the team’s goal-line running. On fourth-and-goal runs, Jones was stuffed at Minnesota in the opener and Jamaal Williams didn’t have a prayer on Monday. Dillon’s size would seem to make him an appealing option, though it’s worth remembering Jones was No. 1 in the NFL in rushing touchdowns last year.

Grade: B.

Passing Offense

Sometime last season, when Rodgers’ performance in year one of LaFleur’s offense didn’t look all that different from his performance in his final year of McCarthy’s offense, another team’s pro personnel director said, “There’s nothing wrong with Aaron that a couple of receivers wouldn’t solve.”

That scout wasn’t entirely correct, obviously, but he was onto something. Rodgers remains a superb quarterback, as evidenced by his brilliant start to the season.

Rodgers has thrown 13 touchdown passes against zero interceptions and is second in the NFL with a 128.4 passer rating. He’s been in total command before the snap, when he’s continually got the offense into the right play, and after the snap, when he’s thrown with exceptional accuracy, hasn’t gotten close to a turnover and has taken just three sacks.

Entering the season, Adams was the known quantity among the pass catchers. However, the passing game has flourished regardless of who’s been on the field and on the receiving end of Rodgers’ passes.

A good example is on third down. That was a sore spot for the Packers last season but a strength this season. Rodgers is third in the league in third-down passer rating (142.1) and completions that produced first downs (19). In time, the lack of receiver depth could be an issue but tight end Robert Tonyan has provided a legit threat and the running backs have helped pick up the slack.

Grade: A.

Rushing Defense

The elephant in the room is Green Bay’s run defense. In week nine, the Packers will get another shot at the 49ers. That game could precede another matchup in the playoffs. Are the Packers equipped to handle an elite rushing attack?

The early signs aren’t encouraging. Green Bay is 23rd with 120.1 rushing yards allowed per game and 24th with 4.67 rushing yards allowed per attempt. The defensive line is undermanned and Christian Kirksey – who’s on injured reserve – has failed to provide an upgrade at inside linebacker, where he replaced Blake Martinez.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, defensive tackle Kenny Clark should be back after the bye. He’s played less than two quarters this season after suffering a groin injury at Minnesota in the opener. Clark commands double-team blocks, which should mean better matchups across the board. Even without Clark, Green Bay’s run defense limited Atlanta to just 3.1 yards per carry on Monday.

Grade: C-minus.

Passing Defense

While Green Bay is 27th in opponent passer rating, the pass defense hasn’t been a major issue. Cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King and slot Chandon Sullivan have played winning football. The Packers have allowed 46 receptions to opposing receivers, which is seventh-best among teams to have played four games. The Falcons had only one completion of 20-plus yards – a 21-yarder with less than 2 minutes remaining.

Atlanta’s Julio Jones, who is one of the most dominant receivers of the era, caught 4-of-4 targets but for only 32 yards. Calvin Ridley, who led the NFL in receiving yards per game entering the week, didn’t catch any of the five targets as he was eliminated by Alexander.

The problems have come covering running backs, such as New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara and Detroit’s D’Andre Swift.

The pass rush finally got rolling against the Falcons, with Za’Darius Smith recording three of the four sacks. Smith had seven total pressures in that game after tallying only five in the first three. The return of Clark, with his ability to apply pressure up the middle, should help.

Grade: B.

Special Teams

Shawn Mennenga’s unit is off to a slow start. Tyler Ervin, who provided such a spark as a late-season addition last year, is averaging only 3.7 yards per punt return and 19.4 yards per kickoff return. Opponents, on the other hand, are averaging 26.0 yards per kickoff return.

On the bright side, kicker Mason Crosby is 8-for-8 on field goals and punter JK Scott has had only one of his seven punts returned. The Packers improved as last season progressed and they’ll have to do so again so they don’t continually give away field position.

Grade: D.