I, for one, am beside myself. I went into this “5 Questions” exchange with Jason B. Hirschhorn of ACME Packing Co believing that Aaron Rodgers was rocking a fine mustache worthy of a role as a Deadwood extra and found out that he has shaved it off for the start of the season. If you google “Aaron Rodgers mustache” you’ll find more than a full page of results talking about the QB’s facial hair choices and I for one was a fan. I mean, not everyone can pull off a mustache and Rodgers had a good one, nay, a great one. He was the envy of many middle-aged white guys across the Midwest and it was, possibly, the most interesting thing about the star signal caller’s persona in quite some time. Alas, we must press on sans mustache and talk football. If you’re able to get over your grief, please, read on. If not, we understand.
WCG: Let’s start with the big one. New Head Coach Matt LaFleur was hired to replace longtime frontman Mike McCarthy. What will be different about this football team as a result of that change?
APC: While much about Matt LaFleur’s approach as Packers head coach remains to be seen, we have some idea how his offense will look. Like his former colleagues Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, LaFleur’s scheme uses a lot of condensed formations, often with bunches and receiver stacks, and play-action built primarily off outside-zone runs. While those concepts exist in virtually every NFL offense, the manner LaFleur will deploy them will vary greatly from his predecessor, Mike McCarthy.
So will the amount of pre-snap motion. The Packers didn’t show as much of that during the preseason as they practiced in training camp, but most teams limit the breadth of their scheme until the regular season begins.
As for the non-play-calling elements, LaFleur’s personality varies noticeably from that of McCarthy. Where McCarthy expressed a “Pittsburgh machismo” during his public appearances, LaFleur displays a laidback, quiet demeanor. That doesn’t necessarily mean the team will perform better under LaFleur, but expect a different tone from the postgame press conference.
WCG: Aaron Rodgers, the mustachioed QB, is entering his 15th NFL season. What has to happen for the Packers to get back to the promised land before time runs out on Rodgers’ career and do you believe they can make a run in 2019?
APC: Unfortunately for follicular aficionados everywhere, Aaron Rodgers has shaved his mustache. I expect the betting line to move further towards the Bears as soon as this becomes public knowledge.
Editors note: I mean, yeah, that mustache seemed like it was worth at least two TDs on the betting line. Get your bets in now, Bears fans.
As for your question, Rodgers’ ability to work within the design of LaFleur’s scheme will likely determine how far the Packers go in 2019 and beyond. While Rodgers’ best seasons have included a healthy dose of improvisation, that element of his game came to dominate Green Bay’s offense in recent years and contributed to the deterioration at the end of the McCarthy era. The bootlegs and designed rollouts in the new offense serve to keep the quarterback with the framework of the play which should force Rodgers into a better balance.
Accordingly, the Packers could reach the playoffs if the offense finds its rhythm and Rodgers avoids the injuries that have plagued him the past two years. That said, the Shanahan-derived offenses tend to take a while to sync in, and Green Bay might find itself too far behind at that point to make a run in 2019.
WCG: On defense, the Packers made some big signings in Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Adrian Amos while parting ways with longtime stalwart Mike Daniels and an outside linebacker with long hair. What are the expectations for Mike Pettine’s unit this season?
APC: The Packers’ defense will probably have to carry them early on and perhaps throughout the season to make a playoff push. Before injuries completely decimated the unit last year, Mike Pettine actually had Green Bay playing at their highest level in some time, peaking at No. 14 in DVOA entering Week 11. Now restocked with the offseason additions you named as well as healthy returns for Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, and other key contributors, the Packers need to at least match that level of play throughout 2019 to make something of the season.
WCG: Let’s stick on Amos for a minute. The Bears and Packers are essentially flipping safeties this season with Amos and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix changing colors for 2019. It has been the source of a lot of back and forth between the fan bases that is either sad or humorous depending on the day. So let’s settle this - what do you think the Packers are getting in Amos and what are the Bears getting with Clinton-Dix?
APC: Adrian Amos has provided a stabilizing presence in his secondaries, making few mistakes and covering up for those committed by teammates. The Packers have lacked that element in their defensive backfields since Charles Woodson departed, and the absence has resulted in inconsistent outputs that ultimately derailed long playoff runs. Amos immediately becomes one of the top defenders in Green Bay, one that should have a more positive impact than that of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix during his time with the team.
But while Amos is the better player, but the Bears will probably receive most of what they need from Clinton-Dix. He will force more turnovers than Amos and can afford to take some risks with Eddie Jackson roaming the defensive backfield. Chuck Pagano’s blitz-heavy attack will put Clinton-Dix in one-on-one coverage at times, an area where he struggles, but Chicago can deal with those issues for the scant $3.25 million he costs in 2019.
WCG: As we reflect on the 100th season of the NFL, what does the oldest NFL rivalry mean to you personally?
APC: As the only non-fan writing for Acme Packing Company, I don’t have the emotional investment in Bears vs. Packers that others do. Regardless, the rivalry remains one of the calling cards of the NFL, regularly producing instant classics such as Rodgers’ one-legged comeback just last year. Even if the Week 1 slate contains a few objectively more compelling games, the league made a smart choice by putting this classic matchup in the opener slot.
WCG: Not a fan of the Packers? Well, that’s one thing we can agree on Jason!
Thank you to Jason and ACME Packing Company!