packers.com senior writer
GREEN BAY – The Packers’ running game against the Ravens was better than the raw numbers might suggest, but there was also more than meets the eye regarding the late-game defensive breakdowns.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur touched on both topics Monday as the Packers began quickly turning the page on a short week to their Christmas Day home game vs. Cleveland.
Baltimore came into Sunday’s game ranked first in the league against the run, with opponents averaging just 85 yards per game, and Green Bay’s combined 21 handoffs to Aaron Jones (13 rushes, 58 yards), AJ Dillon (7-22) and Allen Lazard (one jet sweep for 5) produced exactly that, 85 rushing yards.
The Packers’ efficiency on the ground is what stood out, though. The coaching staff defines an efficient run as gaining at least 4 yards on first down, at least half the yards needed to move the chains on second down, and converting on third down.
By that metric, 14 of the aforementioned 21 designed runs got the job done. Jones was particularly productive on first down, gaining at least 4 yards on seven of his initial eight first-down carries before his last two were stopped cold. Four of Jones’ first-down carries produced 7, 9, 11 and 9 yards.
In short, even though the ground game didn’t produce any eye-popping statistics, its steadiness against the top rush defense in the league played a big part in the Packers scoring four touchdowns in a span of five possessions.
“We were getting positive gains,” LaFleur said. “I don’t think we had any explosives in the run game, which we always would like, but for the most part I thought it was a productive day on the ground.”
The hidden aspects to the late letdowns on defense weren’t so positive, though.
As Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley directed two touchdown drives in the game’s final nine minutes, LaFleur felt the defense wasn’t situationally as aware as it needed to be, and often wasn’t in position at the snap of the ball.
Two important passes to tight end Mark Andrews to convert third and fourth downs were “easy completions” the Packers didn’t challenge effectively based on the situation, LaFleur said.
He also lamented multiple defenders not being set and ready for the snap, and it left them a step slow as the Ravens were marching down the field. Sometimes the play call wasn’t in soon enough, LaFleur said, but other times it was.
“Anytime the defense has a chance to put their cleats in the ground, they’re taking in the offensive information, really looking at the keys, they have a much better idea of what potentially could be coming at them and then going out there and playing the play,” he said.
“I think that’s where there’s room for improvement. Certainly, we need all 11 on defense locked in, ready to go on the snap of the ball, and if you look, that wasn’t always the case on those last few drives.”
The most frustrating moment was a miscommunication on the sideline that left only 10 players on the field as Huntley scrambled to the pylon for the first of the two scores.
LaFleur called that “totally unacceptable” and “embarrassing,” and said it falls on him first, as well as the rest of the staff, to communicate clearly.
“I think our guys will be better for it,” he said of the late-game struggles in general. “We’ll learn from it. We’ll get back to work tomorrow.”
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packers.com senior writer