The 2020 Green Bay Packers know exactly who they are. They are, if nothing else, a team with a strong identity.
The Packers are headed to the NFC Conference Championship Game after defeating the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the postseason.
For the first time since 2007, a Conference Championship Game will be held at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers has never been able to play in such a game at home in his career, until now. The Packers will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of course Tom Brady, with Super Bowl LV on the line.
This is the game that all Packers fans, all football fans, have been waiting for since Rodgers first took the Packers to the Super Bowl.
But before we jump into the upcoming game, we first want to look at the statement Green Bay made against the Rams, the league’s No. 1 ranked defense.
The Packers made it clear they don’t just want to win; they want to win the way they like to win. And that serves a clear blueprint for their next contest.
Much of the credit goes to the Packers’ leadership core.
In a matchup where national pundits talked endlessly about Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and the Ram’s vaunted defense, it was the Packers who ran away with the game. Green Bay dominated because they stuck true to their unique, cohesive identity.
Their efforts last weekend deserve a little more attention.
A Microcosm of the Season
The Packers-Rams game was, in many ways, a representation of Green Bay’s 2020 season as a whole.
Green Bay got up early on Los Angeles, which they’ve done all year. In fact, the Packers scored on their first five possessions against the Rams. The first time any team did that to the Rams all year.
But all talk with the 2020 Packers has to start with the (soon to be named) league MVP, right?
One thing we’ve learn is Aaron Rodgers certainly “loves gold!” And this red zone, I mean, gold zone, offense is the best in team history.
Rodgers accounted for three touchdowns against the Rams and could have put up more. He was completely in control of the game. His legs are as strong as they’ve been in a decade and his skill has seamlessly meshed with Matt LaFleur’s efficient, deceiving offense.
This season will forever be remembered as the year Rodgers was historically dominant again. And he was just that against the Rams and their great defense. The Packers’ signal caller is content with checking the ball down more, which has resulted in more methodical scoring drives.
He’s currently playing behind an offensive line missing its potential Hall of Fame left tackle, yet the whole line stood up to the best defensive front in the NFL. The tackles Billy Turner and Ricky Wagner specifically shined — they’re this team’s unsung heroes.
This offensive line has overcome obstacles all year and as a unit they should be regarded as the most versatile lines in football. Once again they were up to the task.
However our favorite moment of the game, regarding the offensive line, was second-year guard Elgton Jenkins standing up to five-time First Team All-Pro, generational talent defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Yes, Donald was playing hurt, but Jenkins kept the Hall of Famer under control when he was in the game. After blocking Donald to the ground Donald got in Jenkins’ face and tried to start a fight. Jenkins, showing incredible emotional intelligence and leadership, didn’t respond to the attack and Donald was flagged for 15 yards.
The Packers would later score on the drive. We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it until he gets that letter on his jersey: Jenkins is a future captain of the Green Bay Packers.
Rodgers isn’t the only leader on this team that has influenced their identity so strongly. Look no further than the best wide receiver in football.
Davante Adams, as we all knew he would, showed no fear in going up against cornerback Jalen Ramsey and he scored the Packers’ first touchdown on the day. That third down catch was a big moment and it set the tone for the game. And that is what Adams has done all year. He’s the top red zone (or gold zone!) target in the NFL, without exception. His 18 receiving touchdowns tied Sterling Sharpe’s Packers record for a single-season.
Remember, Adams accomplished this in 13 and a half games. Adams’ swagger, born of his incredible preparation, certainly rubs off on the whole team.
Seeing Ramsey get so much attention throughout the week and then have it be reduced to him throwing a tantrum in the end zone after Adams scored was perfect.
The Packers’ other skill player that could arguably be defined as a generational talent, Aaron Jones, put up 113 total yards and a score in the game, too. His combination of speed, strength and elusiveness has never been seen in Green Bay before. Just like he has all year, he was ready when called upon and was historically dominant on a per-touch basis. Jones had the highest yards per rush mark in franchise history in 2020 (5.5 yards per rush).
Against the Rams, Jones averaged over 7.0 yards per rush.
Even so, nearly all of the pregame talk, nationally, was about the Rams’ running back Cam Akers. But as we predicted, Jones easily outshined him.
However it wasn’t just Jones. Jamaal Williams easily could have had well over 100 yards rushing had the Packers given him the ball. He was unstoppable right up the middle, showcasing his strength in Lambeau Field cold. No one wanted to tackle him.
And then the Packers would get AJ Dillon out there, arguably the toughest of the three backs to tackle.
In some ways, this Packers team is like the San Francisco 49ers from last year. They’re able to put any running back out there and they’re able to find success behind this offensive line and scheme. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I suppose.
The Rams’ game plan had to have been to control the line of scrimmage, run the ball, kill the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers off of the field. Instead, the Packers inflicted this exact attack unto the Rams.
One of the reasons the Packers’ offense was able to maintain ball control was because of their pass catching tight end.
Robert “Big Bob” Tonyan, the Packers’ breakout tight end, continued his special season in the postseason. He made four receptions on four targets for 60 yards. Wow, it feels good for the Packers to have an elite tight end in Green Bay again, doesn’t it? In the 2020 season he set the Packers’ all-time record by converting 71% of his targets into first downs or touchdowns.
It’s nice to see him keeping that incredible pace when it matters the most.
On offense the Packers didn’t let up a sack and didn’t turn the ball over. That more than anything else is this team’s identity. That is how this team can go win a Super Bowl. The offensive line should get a plethora of credit for this, but Rodgers’ mastery of LaFleur’s offense is also obviously key.
Statement game. Identity on full display. The Packers showed their best self when it mattered the most.
This team is special.
All Aboard the D-Train
On defense, Za’Darius Smith continued to bring the juice, recording his third sack in his third Packers postseason game. He joined Reggie White and Clay Matthews by putting up that elite stat.
He’s a captain for a reason and just like he has all year, he brought that energy and swagger to this defense against the Rams. When it comes to the Packers’ identity, ‘Z’ is at the middle of it.
Rashan Gary, or mini-Z as we’re starting to call him, continued his ascent as a dominant pass rusher with 1.5 sacks. Green Bay’s pass rush will be paramount against Brady and the Bucs.
What 43 year old would enjoy being continually hit in 20 degree weather?
Kenny Clark made his statement that he is a dominant defensive tackle in a game that featured Aaron Donald — we love how he stepped up with 1.5 sacks.
In the defensive backfield Jaire Alexander took another step to superstardom. Again, all eyes were on the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey, but Alexander stole the show. He allowed one reception for -3 yards. Read that again.
Starting next season Alexander is going to be nationally known as one of the best, if not the best, cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s going to be paid handsomely in the future, but we’ll worry about that later.
That’s the definition of a good problem.
Mason Crosby was 2/2 on field goals, extending his mark to 18/18 on field goals in the 2020 season including the postseason. What a mentally strong player he is. Every facet of this team stepped up against the Rams.
This game was a definitive statement of who the 2020 Green Bay Packers are.
This is what the Packers do and they don’t care who they are playing. They’re going to play the game they want to play and no one can stop them. When all phases of their game are rolling, they are unbeatable — especially at home.
The Packers, who led the NFL in scoring in 2020, put up 32 points after averaging 31.8 points per game all year.
Against the league’s top defense? It was business as usual. Nothing more, nothing less.
However the defense is rounding into form. Through the first 12 weeks of the season the Packers’ defense didn’t have back-to-back games holding their opponents under 20 points. They’ve held their opponents under 20 points in their last four games, including this win over the Rams.
In the NFL it’s all about getting hot at the right time. The Packers are smoldering as they head into the league’s final four weekend.
The Packers’ Identity Regarding The Bucs
If the Packers don’t turn the ball over when facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, like they didn’t against the Rams, they will win. And they will go to the Super Bowl.
Turning the ball over is something this team usually avoids.
Yes, we all know that Rodgers threw two interceptions against the Bucs in Tampa Bay earlier in the season. But he isn’t going to have a repeat of that game at a frigid Lambeau Field.
If the Packers continue to play like they did against the Rams, you can book their ticket to Tampa for a game on February 7, 2021.
If Aaron Rodgers continues to play like he has over the last two months, the Packers cannot lose. That isn’t hyperbolic, it isn’t arrogant, it’s just a fact. And this team’s identity is centered around Rodgers’ dominance. When he’s on, the entire team gains confidence on both sides of the ball.
Rodgers’ confidence is matched only by Za’Darius Smith’s energy on the defensive side of the ball, by the juice he brings to this team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a very good team. Tom Brady is playing pretty good ball at the moment and their defense, specifically their linebacker core, is dominant.
Brady will have Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski to throw to, the verdict is still out on Antonio Brown who sustained an injury against the New Orleans Saints.
It is true that if the Packers don’t bring their identity to the game on Sunday then they are at serious risk of their season ending. However, how can the Packers not bring their identity? It’s who they are. It’s who they’ve been for the last two months.
The Packers showing their true identity against the Rams was not a fluke.
The 2020 Green Bay Packers survive, no thrive, on Rodgers’ excellence. They thrive on Adams’ inability to be stopped, Jones’ explosiveness, Tonyan’s ability to get open, depth receivers making plays and the offensive line’s amazing ability to overcome.
On the defensive side of the ball the Packers’ edge rushers routinely put pressure on the quarterback, especially lately. The defensive backfield’s strong play, led by Alexander’s island, is growing more confident by the game, too. Lastly, Crosby’s incredibly accurate right leg is the final piece that makes this team whole — and elite.
When all of those factors come together, at a cold Lambeau Field, it’s a recipe for success. Matt LaFleur has firm control of his team. He’s kept his team focused, but loose. Confident, but energized.
We see Aaron Jones being a huge factor against Tampa Bay, but the rotation of Jones, Jamaal Williams and rookie AJ Dillon could be the real x-factor (assuming Dillon can play, as he’s a little banged-up). All three running backs could be fresh for the entire game against the Bucs; we know Jones and Williams will be. Tampa doesn’t have anything close to these three backs on their side of the field.
If Brady has a clean pocket all game, then the Packers are in for some trouble. They simply have to make the ‘old man’ move. Also, if the Packers can get out to an early lead it’ll take away the effectiveness of running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette.
If they aren’t gaining yardage, then ‘Z’, Gary, Preston and Clark will be given the green light to make Brady pay for it. With how well Alexander and the Packers’ safeties are playing right now any hurried throws that Brady is forced to make from an off-angle may very well find themselves intercepted.
On the offensive side of the ball, scheming ways to limit the effectiveness of fantastic linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White is monumental. We think the best way to attack those linebackers is to run directly at them. Make them defend the middle of the field. Their lateral speed is so impressive that if the Packers aim to stretch runs outside or design passes to the flat, Tampa Bay may create some problems for the Packers’ offense.
The Bucs are also likely getting massive defensive tackle Vita Vea back as well. He was injured early in the year, but was playing very well before his injury. We don’t think it’s much of a factor, but the national media is looking at his returning as a game-changing event.
Oh well, these Packers are ready to handle anything the Bucs throw at them.
In LaFleur’s game plan we trust. It’s going to be an incredibly fun game to watch.
When the Packers’ Identity is Humming
Lets focus in a little more specifically on this team’s game day identity.
Off the field, they’re incredibly fun and clearly adore each other, but it’s the way they work together to win games that we love the most. It’s a cascade affect when the Packers’ start enforcing their identity onto their opponents.
The statement they made to the world by bringing the purest form of that identity to the biggest game of the season lets you know how legitimate their Super Bowl aspirations are. They look like a team that isn’t willing to be denied.
One of the core tenets of the Packers’ identity is scoring early in the game. No one scripts plays like LaFleur and no one executes them quite like Rodgers early in the game.
The Packers led the league in opening drive scoring in 2020.
For Green Bay, getting up early is paramount to making their opponent play a more one-dimensional game. This helps the Packers’ defense face more passes, which is the strength of the defense.
Pass rushers are able to pin their ears back and rush with a little more ferocity. Less thinking, more playing.
This defense, at its soul, is an opportunist defense and one that prides itself on sacking the quarterback. This in turn gets the ball back to Rodgers where, with the lead, they can use their unprecedented stable of backs to gain yardage while killing the clock. Then this opens up the play-action game, and Rodgers may be having the greatest season in NFL history using the play-action specifically.
That’s LaFleur’s scheme, meshed with coaching his players to their strengths on both sides of the ball. The whole identity snowballs on itself and it has, more often that not lately, resulted in more than 30 points for the Packers and less than 20 points for their opponent.
Most teams can live with that sort of outcome. And that is their identity and they made the statement that they’re going to continue playing within their identity based on what they did against the Rams and their No. 1 ranked defense.
60 minutes from a Super Bowl appearance.
The football gods have finally given us a Rodgers-Brady postseason game. We are all mandated to sit back and enjoy it. A game this special may never come around again.
Scream it with us now, GO PACK GO!