The Green Bay Packers were healthier coming out of their bye, and they got a big win over the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. The Packers team we saw—led by an aggressive defense and a strong running game—was the squad we expected to see in 2022.
For 6-8 Green Bay, though, the emergence of good, complementary football likely came too late to make a difference this year. It can, however, give the Packers a blueprint for how they can rebound in 2023.
That potential turnaround doesn't have to rely on quarterback Aaron Rodgers' return to MVP form either.
Green Bay does still have Rodgers, and the two-time reigning MVP—who has dealt with thumb and rib injuries this season—looked crisper and healthier after the extra rest. He also made a handful of brilliant throws. Yet this game was dominated by the defense and running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Jones and Dillon combined for 126 rushing yards, 71 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The defense logged five sacks and an interception and held L.A. to just 156 yards. Green Bay dominated time of possession, holding the ball for more than 37 minutes of game clock.
Rodgers, meanwhile, spent much of the contest playing the game-manager role.
This is how the Packers were supposed to win games. The defense is loaded with talented playmakers in Preston Smith, Kenny Clark and Jaire Alexander. Jones and Dillon are one of the top running back duos in the NFL.
Rodgers shouldn't have to carry this offense the way he has in years past. With top wideout Davante Adams having been traded in the offseason, asking him to do so was always going to be a challenge.
The Packers do have promising rookie receivers in Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs plus proven complementary receivers in Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb. However, Watson and Doubs have had injuries and have rarely played together.
According to The Athletic's Matt Schneidman, they had played just 70 snaps together before Monday night.
With that and their lack of experience, and with a new offensive coordinator in Adam Stenavich, the offense hadn't showcased much chemistry. Even on Monday—arguably Green Bay's most complete game of the season—miscommunication was prevalent.
On Rodgers' first-quarter interception, he and Lazard appeared to be on different pages.
Late in the game, when the Packers were trying to close it out, Watson was out of position for what might have been an easy touchdown—something Rodgers joked about after the game.
"You wanna catch touchdowns, you run the right routes," Rodgers said on ESPN during the postgame segment.
Rodgers was able to laugh because this game didn't end in disaster due to a picked pass or missed opportunity. The defense and the running game took care of business and made his job relatively easy.
The 10-time Pro Bowler finished 22-of-30 for 229 yards with a touchdown and an interception. That's not what fans are used to seeing from the Rodgers of years past, but it was good enough. If the rushing attack and defense control games as they did, good enough will be all Green Bay needs from Rodgers to be successful.
It's a formula the Packers have finally figured out over the past few weeks. But even after Monday's win, their playoff chances are incredibly slim.
The Packers have to beat the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions to even have a shot. Getting the Seattle Seahawks to lose another game is doable, as they finish with the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Rams.
That the Washington Commanders will lose two of three (against the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys) is probably more likely than the New York Giants' losing all three (Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles), but both are possible.
Still, a lot has to happen, and the reality is that Green Bay's season will probably end early next month.
However, Rodgers' time in Green Bay isn't likely to end in January. He signed a three-year, $150.8 million extension in the offseason and will have $99.8 million in dead money remaining on his contract in 2023.
Unless Rodgers retires, he will be Green Bay's starter next year. The franchise's focus in 2023 should be on helping Rodgers to continue transitioning to that game-manager role.
General manager Brian Gutekunst will have his work cut out for him in that regard. Green Bay is projected to have just $3.5 million in cap space and has several impending free agents to address.
That includes key players such as Lazard, Cobb, offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins, tight end Robert Tonyan, safety Adrian Amos and safety Rudy Ford.
It wouldn't hurt to add another veteran to the receiving corps either, though the free-agent receiver class—headlined by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers—isn't exactly impressive.
Perhaps Green Bay can land a new No. 1 receiver in the draft by targeting a top prospect such as USC's Jordan Addison or Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Really, though, it should worry more about reloading the offensive line and the defense. The draft should provide an excellent opportunity to do just that.
According to the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's early rankings, 20 of the top 32 prospects are offensive linemen or defenders.
The Packers should put extra focus on shoring up a run defense that came into Week 15 ranked 30th in yards per carry allowed (5.0). Building in the trenches would allow Green Bay to try winning by controlling the clock and tempo and leaning much less on Rodgers' throwing shoulder.
That's the right formula, especially in the NFC North. The Vikings and Lions have shown they can win shootouts, but no team in the division is particularly great against the run.
The Vikings, Lions and Chicago Bears rank 18th, 26th and 27th in rushing yards allowed this season. Rodgers may no longer be equipped to out-quarterback the rest of the division. He can win by playing smart, managing the offense and making the occasional big throw.
And those big throws may come more frequently as he, Watson and Doubs continue to grow together in Stenavich's offense.
Of course, Rodgers may never dominate defenses as he did just a year ago. That's OK, because Green Bay's path to redemption next season isn't all about the quarterback. It's about building around the backfield, fielding an aggressive and opportunistic defense and cleaning up the mistakes that have cost the Packers this season.
Rodgers doesn't have to be great if the team around him is—and Green Bay can be great if it can execute the same game plan it did against Los Angeles.
Monday's game was the closest to a complete one the Packers have played this season.
Green Bay did notch an overtime victory against playoff-bound Dallas in Week 10, but that was far from a complete performance. The Packers turned the ball over twice and allowed 159 rushing yards, but they did run the ball well (207 yards), force mistakes (two interceptions, two sacks) and get late-game greatness from Rodgers in the comeback (two fourth-quarter touchdown passes).
Against the Rams—who at 4-10 are admittedly a lower-tier team than the Cowboys—the Packers imposed their will from start to finish. They didn't need late-game heroics from Rodgers because their backfield and defense set the tone.
Now it's time to build on that win, look ahead to 2023 and maybe—just maybe—get enough breaks to sneak into the postseason this year.