In the most miserable year that we’ve faced on an accumulative scale, we’ve been given, perhaps, the most likable and fun Packers team in at least a generation.
How’s that for irony?
The 2020 Green Bay Packers are unlike any other team in recent history. To put it simply: they’re easy as hell to root for. And it’s because they’re such a unique blend of characters.
Everything about this team is special. From how they support each other on the field, to how they support each other in the locker room, to their support for each other online. These teammates are genuinely tight-knit. From the star players to role players, they have gelled into a unit unlike most teams.
Football, like all sports, is entertainment. That’s why we’re all here, right? And these Packers are so entertaining. Hell, they’re even fun on non-game days.
All Green Bay Packers fans understand how different this team is and how authentically enjoyable this season has been. Yes, this season will remain special no matter how it ends, but it feels drastically different than last year, doesn’t it?
This team’s collection of top-end talent at all of the premium positions is incredibly rare. The fact that they’re also interesting, hilarious, and this close to one another is rarer still.
The offense, operating with more confidence than anyone would have thought possible, renamed the red zone the ‘gold zone.’ And they’re leading the NFL in scoring, putting up 31.6 points per game.
When a Packers defender creates a turnover the entire defense runs toward the end zone in euphoric celebration. They don’t gather out of obligation, but out of legitimate joy for their teammate’s success. Even their Achilles’ heel, run defense, is starting to become a less scary proposition.
When the defense does their “D-Train” dance they sincerely look like they’re having fun.
Then we have Jamaal Williams dancing before the game, after a run, even after taking a hard hit he bounces up and gives another trademarked dance move. This energy, this joy has permeated this entire roster and fanbase.
The fans, largely kept at home this year, have probably felt compelled to dance more during this season than any in recent memory. It’s the sick irony of this 2020 season.
We won’t get into the specifics but many of the these Packers players have given generous amounts of time and money to great causes this year, too. The one we will point out here is Jamaal Williams’ charity, which gave toys and bikes to underprivileged kids, in conjunction with Game on Wisconsin.
This is just another reason why rooting for these guys comes so naturally. I mean, Packers fans root for the team every year, but this year, it feels deeper. The human aspect of this team is more visceral than ever.
But what do the good times not do?
They can’t. That’s what makes them so good.
One thing that some fans have realized, but many have not quite internalized yet, is that this season is so special not just because of what’s happening this year. It’s special because it’s not going to be like this next year.
The 2021 Packers are not going to have many of the players who are making plays out on that field in 2020. It’s the nature of the beast, the beast being the NFL. Rosters aren’t forever and when you get a truly special one, you have to make the most of it.
So far, the 2020 Packers are making the most of this special collection of men. We are not going to highlight the players that will likely be gone next season, but it’s not a short nor insignificant list. Money will drive many of the unfortunate changes, as it often does.
But today we are focusing on the now, because as this year has taught us, that’s all there really is.
The 2020 Packers are the team that silenced the doubters. They’re the team that evaded “certain” analytic regression. They’re the team that overcame their fatal flaw of not drafting a wide receiver out of the “historically-deep” 2020 wide receiver draft class. They’re the team that couldn’t stop the run that has, kind of, learned how to stop the run.
The experts have been forced to put their tails between their legs for the second consecutive season.
How did this happen? Look no further than…
The Man Who Brought A New Culture:
We’re going to dive into the many reasons, and personalities, that have driven this distinct change in Green Bay over the last year and a half. We’re going to highlight the impact players that have turned the Packers into legitimate contenders (this time even more legitimate).
But we’d be foolish not to start with the impact of Za’Darius Smith.
Yes, Head Coach Matt LaFleur and General Manager Brian Gutekunst have been instrumental in shaping this team and its identity. Despite the fact we firmly believe that team identities are forged out on the field.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that the Packers have collectively taken upon the personality of their defensive captain, Za’Darius Smith — or as many call him, ‘Z.’
You could argue that he alone brought a new life, a new energy to Titletown. And the emotion that he brings week after week is matched by only the unparalleled confidence the captain on the offensive side of the ball continually brings.
We’ll circle back to ‘Z’ later, but now it’s time to talk about the…
A rejuvenated, healthy, motivated and fully bought-in Aaron Rodgers has changed this team greatly over the course of this horrid year. His MVP level play has this team focused and self-assured.
The Packers never feel out of a game because they have Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback; yeah it’s a cliche, but his supreme confidence is mirrored by his teammates. They can trust their instincts to go make a play because even if they mess up, they know Rodgers is there to redeem them. In this way, the 2020 Packers are unflappable.
Rodgers has reached zen-level mastery of his position, and life, it seems.
He’s visibly calm and at peace with his accomplishments, but is still driven to win more titles. There’s little doubt that ‘Z’ helped make Rodgers believe in a championship run in Green Bay again.
In the final years with Mike McCarthy as this team’s head coach a Super Bowl appearance seemed attainable, yet the team wasn’t nearly as fun to watch. You couldn’t exactly explain why, but I think we all know now because they weren’t having as much fun and they didn’t support each other like this team does.
The big national storyline in 2019 was “Rodgers and LaFleur aren’t going to get along” and it was mostly bull, but Rodgers didn’t have an amazing year (for his standards). In 2019, he threw 26 TDs as he learned LaFleur’s offense. There was a give and take, no doubt.
With one game remaining in 2020 he already has 44 touchdown passes. He’s positioning himself to win his third AP MVP Award, tying him with Brett Favre for the most in team history.
The best part is, we are all getting intimate glimpses inside the mind of Rodgers throughout this special season.
Many Packers fans have relished Rodgers’ weekly stints on The Pat McAfee show. He gives honest, thoughtful answers to often-times equally thoughtful anti-clickbait questions. McAfee is outrageous, but also represents the coming age of sports media. It’s focused more on the human than just the athlete, without the pandering.
Rodgers isn’t afraid to mention that he has incredible talent, he isn’t afraid to let his on-the-field confidence blur into on-camera confidence. He’s lived through unreal heartbreak on the field, just as his predecessor did. Yet, like the man that came before him, he’s also been atop the mountain at his profession. He laughs more than we’ve ever seen and he isn’t censoring himself in an attempt to gain new fans… which has resulted in him gaining more fans.
He understands that he is playing for his legacy this year. And it’s clear the he appreciates and understands his teammate’s role in his success. Rodgers knows what winning the next four games would do for the story of his career. He’s embraced this season, this moment.
The 37-year-old quarterback definitely hasn’t been alone on the offensive side of the ball.
Davante Adams is similarly embracing being the best and, well, he won’t be denied. It’s a mindset the Packers haven’t seen at the position since Sterling Sharpe in the early 1990s and not before that since Don Hutson in the 1940s.
Rodgers recently said that Adams might be in the “best player I’ve ever played with” category with Charles Woodson. What an unbelievable compliment. And it’s probably true.
Rodgers and Adams are the best duo in the NFL and they have the rarest of connections out on that field. They’re so much fun to root for and history follows them with every completion — they’re the most productive duo in Packers history when it comes to receptions between quarterback and receiver.
What’s incredible is Adams, the Packers’ historic wide receiver, might have the largest ‘superstar to diva gap’ in NFL history at the wide receiver position.
Adams is the best receiver in the game right now yet he never, and we mean never, gets into the sideline scuffles. He never complains like many of the top wide receivers of the last 30 years. He isn’t a complainer, he just works harder and dominates at an even higher rate. His 2020 season might just be the best wide receiver season in Packers history — among the best ever in NFL history.
17 touchdowns in 13 games. Unbelievable. The image of Adams smiling through Lambeau Field snow with a crown on his head will remain one of the more iconic images from this special season. He’s not cocky, he’s simply accurate in his assessment that his hard work has resulted in him being the best in the league. He also serves as mentor to the other receivers on the squad.
Now just imagine Adams going up against Jaire Alexander one-on-one in practice? No wonder they’re both so good, they have to be every single day.
The wide receiver position also features fan-favorite Allen Lazard (get your alien and lizard emojis ready) and one of the most polarizing players in recent Packers history:
Some fans have wanted to give up on ‘MVS,’ while others see his untapped potential. The debate surrounding his value to the team is immense. We are, and have always been, firmly in the “let the man develop” camp — and we believe he’s going to be an important weapon as this season heads to the postseason.
‘MVS’ and Lazard are both fantastic blockers and they might be the best tandem of blockers in recent Packers wide receiver history. That shows their true character. Even though they don’t get as many touches because of the other weapons on this offense, they work their asses off to help their teammates shine.
How can you not love that?
And how great was it seeing Lazard help Dillon do a Lambeau Leap on his second career touchdown? It’s the little things with this team that are so special. They literally boost each other up. Although Lazard did land a joke in saying that Dillon, despite having those enormous legs, “can’t jump.”
It hasn’t been all smiles this year though.
When ‘MVS’ was being attacked from all sides, from the media and fans due to his inconsistencies, Rodgers showed his growth as a leader by publicly defending him. Rodgers showed up for his talented, but struggling wide receiver. Other Packers also spoke out in Valdes-Scantling’s defense and we believe it truly brought this team even further together.
As we’re sure you’ve noticed, this is the opposite of an analytics-driven piece. Not on purpose, mind you, but this year we are choosing to look at the human side of this team and what makes them who they are. We think many fans understand this aspect of the team, too.
Now lets look at the ball carriers.
In the backfield you have a bonafide superstar running back. One of the most electric runners in team history, Aaron Jones. He’s polite, humble and so easy to root for. In 2019 he led the NFL in touchdowns. His career 5.2 yards per rush is the most explosive mark in Packers History.
No running backs in Titletown USA have ever been better on a per-play basis. Not enough people have come to terms with that.
He has that swag that Jaire Alexander has on the defensive side of the ball. Jones wears his sombrero in pregame, he’ll wear his gold sunglasses on the sideline. He’s famous for waving ‘goodbye’ to the Cowboys when running for a touchdown.
Jones is that perfect balance of “I am literally unstoppable” and “Yes sir, no sir” — if that makes sense.
However the other veteran running back on this team is, perhaps, the easiest man to root for on the entire team.
Jamaal Williams is hilarious, goofy, loose, and a necessary ingredient for this (potentially too serious) team. However he’s a tough, hard-nosed runner that has the respect of every teammate. “I felt like Spongebob out there” he’s previously said about playing in the rain. The quotes only get sillier from there.
The rookie A.J. Dillon is his own man, too, with a unique personality and even more unique body. His legs, specifically his thighs, are built for December Packers football. All Packers fans thought that when he was drafted (even the ones punching the air in anger) and it was proven against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football.
In Dillon’s first opportunity to show his talents, he absolutely excelled.
Many were against the Packers drafting him in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but we’re sure many of them have changed their tune. Oh there’s no way we could have predicted that…
At tight end, this team remains just entertaining and fun. In fact, this position group boasts two of the team’s fan-favorites.
Big Bob Tonyan is leading the NFC in receiving touchdowns, for tight ends, and I’m pretty sure he’s the guy Packers fans get most excited about when a touchdown is caught. His confidence finally caught up with his talent. A special moment for a young NFL player with the size he was blessed with.
There is something incredibly sweet and funny about Tonyan being too shy to correct people on how to pronounce his name until he started catching touchdowns on national television. Tun-yun, not Ton-yan. He’s a hard worker and he has publicly stated he wants to be the best tight end in the world.
He took a step, if even a small one, in that direction this year.
Although his mentor Marcedes Lewis might get even more love from the fans, and the team, when he catches a touchdown. “Big Dog” is an unquestioned leader on this team. Lewis is a tight end that often functions as a bonus blocking offensive tackle.
He is this team’s “Mr. Reliable” and is often called upon in the big moments. When he catches the ball, it’s usually a big play. However it cannot be overstated how he used to be a focal point of offenses earlier in his career, but was unselfish enough to take on the roll he has in Green Bay.
Talk about setting an example for the younger players.
On the offensive line, well, this is personally one of our favorite units on the team.
What a unique blend of talent, experience, youth, grit and personality. This unit has it all.
These men are led by the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history, David Bakhtiari. Full name: David Afrisiab Assad Bakhtiari (which is just an incredible name). As we said, he’s the highest paid lineman in the NFL and he still seems like a bargain.
The California-born, Icelandic and Iranian giant was just a two star prospect coming out of high school. The beer-chugging, ironic grudge-holding leader is now firmly on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
Bakhtiari’s off the field “rivalry” with Rodgers this year has been so much fun to watch. You can just feel the love between these two men. They act like brothers, whether they’re claiming to be enemies or Rodgers is asking Bakhtiari for a new car.
They always have a new bit to share with the media.
At center there’s the always underrated, always inquisitive Corey Linsley. He was thrown into the fire as a rookie on the road in Seattle and has never looked back. Linsley was finally in line to be rewarded with a postseason honor this season, but was injured and then somehow left off of the Pro Bowl squad.
The young guard Elgton Jenkins might be the most talented of all the linemen on the team, amazingly. He could already be a top five player on this team that is full of talented players. He’s as versatile as he is proficient, despite his age. He played through and overcame an injury this year and come playoff time, he’ll be on the team’s most important players.
The future of the Packers’ offensive line is named Elgton. He’s a future team captain, in our opinion, and may follow in Bakhtiari’s highest-paid at his position footsteps.
Billy Turner was one of the Packers’ loudest voices when it came to racial equality issues. His leadership qualities shown when discussing off the field issues and his talent as the replacement for departed (and loved) Bryan Bulaga has been monumental. As the 2020 season has unfolded his value has been magnified as he’s played multiple positions at a high level. This offense isn’t as dangerous without Turner.
Ricky Wagner, Lucas Patrick, rookie Jon Runyan have been more than serviceable this year, too, as Rodgers has been sacked only 19 times, which is on pace for the lowest number of his career.
And that’s just the offensive side of the ball.
…All roads eventually lead back to ‘Z’ when it comes to the 2020 Packers.
The abominable, lovable, infectious, historically-productive Za’Darius Smith.
We’re not joking or being disingenuous when saying that this team has taken on ‘Z’s’ identity, even on the offensive side of the ball. It’s his energy, his positiveness that this team has adopted. Tomorrow will always be better is the vibe he constantly emits.
But before looking deeper into ‘Z’ let’s look at the defensive line first.
The highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL is Kenny Clark. “Mr. December” is heating up, as he usually does this time of year. Let’s hope he transforms into “Mr. January” and “Mr. February” too.
He might be the most crucial member of this defense, even with all of the other talented players. Clark helped prove the Packers can survive against a strong rushing attack against Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans and if that’s the blueprint moving forward, buckle up.
Clark is a quiet leader, a quiet giant that just goes about his business every week. However he will give a little dance every once in a while and it’s always great to see a little emotion from him. He isn’t paid to constantly sack the quarterback, but when he’s at his best, he puts pressure on the quarterback, not allowing the opposing team’s passer to step up.
He eats up double-teams constantly and in the next few weeks he’ll aim to show how valuable he is in the running game.
There’s a few other guys on the defense front’s rotation, but Clark is the leader of the group. Now the Packers have signed Damon “Snacks” Harrison, too. We’ll see how much playing time he’ll get, but he’s about 35 pounds heavier than Clark. He’s obviously a big man and if he can get back to his previous form, it’ll completely and utterly transform this defense.
With “Snacks” taking on a double-team, just imagine the havoc Clark could inflict.
OK, we’ve promised — it’s now time to talk a little more about the defensive captain Za’Darius Smith. He is the cultural-defining force that Reggie White was to Brett Favre’s Packers of the early 1990s. He is the motor that a young Clay Matthews provided for the Packers. Smith has changed this team, this franchise and the expectations of the fanbase.
Let’s face the fact that ‘Z’ is the leader of this team, not just the defense. He’s the type of guy you’d follow into battle. No, football isn’t battle, but you get the point.
He’s been spotted wearing a Reggie White jersey before games and has even responded to our tweets online that have compared the start of his Packers career to White’s first couple seasons in Green Bay.
Smith is not shy about his role in this franchise.
He, like Rodgers, understands the legacy that he’s building. ‘Z’ is a smart guy and is always ready to joke around, despite constantly working hard.
That is the personality this team has taken on.
I like to imagine what it’s like when ‘Z’ lines up across from Bakhtiari in practice. They’re both so talented and prideful — I’d like to see who would win that battle. It’s the little things like that, the competitions they must have in practice, that prepares these guys so thoroughly for Sunday.
However Smith’s greatest moment this year might have happened off the field.
He, along with Preston Smith and Kenny Clark, spoke with Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine. They apparently pleaded with Pettine to simplify the defense and just allow them to be more aggressive while attacking the quarterback. Ever since that meeting, the Packers’ defense has been much stronger and the team as a whole has been more confident.
When your best players talk, coaches listen. Being a leader is knowing when to talk.
Rashan Gary, the second year edge rusher, is turning into a mini-’Z’ before our eyes. Although he’s even faster than his mentor. His continued development as a pass rusher, and edge defender, has been a godsend for the Packers. He’s becoming a force for this defense, with incredible pressure rates lately, and the NFL is finally starting to grasp the player he is becoming.
But he’s not the only second year defender that’s tilting the field for the Packers. With that said, we’ll dive into safety Darnell Savage later… back to the edge rushers.
Preston Smith, the other Smith Brother, hasn’t put up the stats he did last year. However he has impacted the game in other less acclaimed ways. His three pressure created interceptions, tied with Gary, are leading the team. This is a brand new stat we are tracking this year and it’s clear that P. Smith deserves a little more credit than he’s gotten this year.
To his credit, he’s tuned out the doubters and is playing his best ball of the season right now. Plus, his deadpan, straight-forward analysis of plays have been fantastic all year. He’s a funny guy, even when he’s not putting up the stats he’d prefer.
This position is the enigma of the 2020 Packers. It hasn’t been a strength in Green Bay for, well, a few generations. There is no Ray Nitschke on this team, but unfortunately there isn’t even an A.J. Hawk.
To his credit, free agent signing Christian Kirskey has actually made a few splash plays this year, but the real excitement is in the youngsters Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin. At least the position is young and hell and full of potential, even if they aren’t exactly leading the way. That said, Barnes has made a few tackles for loss that really stand out. If he continues to develop over the next few weeks this defense could get even better.
Of all position groups on this team, this one may have the most potential for improvement over the coming weeks. If it does, the Lombardi Trophy might just be coming home.
One name stands above the rest, obviously.
The self-proclaimed, and becoming more widely-accepted, best corner in the league: Jaire Alexander.
His quick answer to the question, “Are you the best cornerback in the league?” doesn’t even come across as arrogant. That is just the way he carries himself every single day. And that has to rub off on his teammates.
He, like some of the great corners that came before him, won’t boast gaudy interception numbers because quarterbacks simply don’t throw his way. Alexander is a true shutdown corner… enough said.
We can’t talk about Alexander without mentioning his and Za’Darius Smith’s unique handshakes. They know they’re the two most dominant players on the Packers’ defense and that it is up to them to make the big plays. We’ve previously written about how they may be the secret ingredient to another Super Bowl run.
The world ‘cool’ is subjective, but we don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s the ‘coolest’ guy on the team. His white sunglasses, reserved for press conferences, couldn’t suit him better. And he’s still only 23 years old, somehow.
Kevin King plays with a similar confidence and swagger to Alexander, unfortunately his talent isn’t quite as high, especially when paired with his injury history. He is an important player for the Packers in these playoffs, however he’ll likely be auditioning for his new team throughout them. If the money could work we think the packers would be interested in retaining him. I mean, he did lead the team in interceptions in 2019.
Unfortunately it’s likely that he’ll be gone, as well as a prominent running back and pass rusher come the offseason. Possibly a starting offensive lineman, too. But we don’t want to dwell on the future when there’s so much glorious present to bask in right now.
And that’s all we need right now!
Chandon Sullivan has shown some flashes at corner, too. But beyond his play, we appreciate his reverence for Packers history. Remember in Dallas last year he intercepted a pass and recreated Nick Collins’ iconic Super Bowl XLV celebration at AT&T Stadium.
It really doesn’t get any better than that.
One player that isn’t even on the 2020 Packers, but is still worthy of mentioning is Tramon Williams. He is essentially to this team what Al Harris was to the 2010 Packers. He’s still a mentor to some of these defensive backs, both on the field and off, and he’s one of the more respected players in the league. Williams definitely deserved a shoutout, despite the fact he’s on the Baltimore Ravens this year.
If this team wins a ring, the team should seriously think about reaching out to Williams.
Safety Darnell Savage, who may just be the second coming of Nick Collins, is transforming into one of the best safeties in the NFL over the last two months. His speed is incredible and he’s bringing a dimension to this defense that it has lacked since Collins was injured in 2011.
All eyes are on him for the next few weeks as he’s definitively the packers’ top rising star at the moment.
Adrian Amos is a consistent leader for this team. In truth, he’s the rock this defense is based upon. He performs at a high level against the pass and the run and is rarely in the wrong spot (a trait not shared by recent Packers safeties, ahem).
Speaking of, Amos had to deal with the “who is better Amos or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix” saga last year. Well, he quickly put that nonsense to bed. He’s probably the best open field tackler on the team and is known for being able to lay a hell of a hit. However his instincts as a pass defender have only been honed as his time in Green Bay have unfolded.
Still, Savage is the man to watch at safety for the Packers. He’s a budding star and could be one of the reasons this team is remembered for years to come. You can’t teach elite speed and Savage has it.
Mason Crosby is the most beloved special teams player in Packers history and he hasn’t missed a single field goal in 2020 (knocks on every piece of wood I can find).
The season could literally come down to Crosby’s leg and there’s not a kicker on earth that anyone in Green Bay would take in that situation. He really could be the difference maker on a team that boasts Rodgers, Adams, Jones, Bakhtiari, ‘Z’, Alexander and other star players.
Punter J.K. Scott is hilarious. Let’s start there. He’s the “little kid” on the team that we all root for. Well, we root for him to not punt, obviously, but still. He’s going to get a tackle that actually counts some day!
Tavon Austin was brought in to fill Tyler Ervin’s role as motion jet-sweep, gadget player and punt returner. We have a feeling the former first round draft pick will make his mark in the postseason — he has the skill.
We really need to stop and think about what Matt LaFleur has done in his first two years in Green Bay. It is, by any measure, remarkable.
He is a young coach that hasn’t let success get in the way of winning.
He’s a fresh voice and one that listens to the stars on his team without giving up the command he has on the roster. It’s a fine balance and he has it figured out. Team identities are formed on the field and LaFleur understands that. Coach the team you have, not the style you wish you could.
LaFleur doesn’t panic, he doesn’t overreact. All he does is win. But with this collection of guys out on that field, you can see why he wins so often.
I suppose we should mention how impressive Gutekunst has been as General Manager this year, too. The man has no fear, just look at the first three picks he made in the 2020 NFL Draft. He does what he wants, what he believes in and nothing more. However he’s still potentially filled a couple holes with some veteran talent in the last month, too (see: Tavon Austin and “Snacks” Harrison). Haters be damned.
So, what more is there to say about the this team?
They’re fun. They’re close. They’re talented. They’re interesting. They’re led by one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport having, perhaps, the best season of his career. As football fans, it’s just about the best situation you could ever hope for.
I do wonder how this collection of characters compares to some of the other iconic teams in franchise history. The 1936 team had Don Hutson, Johnny Blood, Arnie Herber and more. Listening to those guys talk about those days, in the few interviews that have survived, is incredible. It’s clear they had fun together.
In 1962, the Packers had Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Paul Hornung, Herb Adderley and many other legends. Just think what that locker room must have been like? With Hornung and Max McGee sneaking out and Jerry Kramer taking notes to write his book, the list goes on.
What about in 1996 with Brett Favre, Reggie White, Antonio Freeman, Desmond Howard, Gilbert Brown and LeRoy Butler, among others? Favre was a wild man in those days, I can’t image the stories his teammates must have from those practices.
This 2020 Packers team just has a certain feel to it, though it’s hard to describe. These guys, as people, are special on their own. But the way in which they’ve meshed together is extraordinary. Just seeing how they joke around with each other and truly care for one another makes it so easy to want them to win. And they’re not just good people, they’re an extremely good football team, too.
They’re one game away from being 13-3 for the second consecutive season. Division champions again, but this team is far from satisfied.
As the rest of the 2020 season unfolds, don’t forget that it’s the personalities of these players that have created such an incredible season so far. That ultimately is the difference this year. We’ve said this before, and we’ll keep saying it, but if you’re not having fun with this Packers team you literally never will.
Bring on the Bears! Go Pack Go!