The Green Bay Packers are enjoying their bye week, trying to get healthy and doing some self-scouting before they play their first playoff game a week from Sunday.
As Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has said, the NFC is wide open and Green Bay is one of several teams with a chance to emerge from the conference and advance to Super Bowl LIV. But in order to do that, they will need some of their key players to be at the top of their game in the postseason.
Here is a list of Packers players that will need to play their best football if the Packers are going to make some noise in the playoffs this year:
1. RB Aaron Jones
Jones has been the centerpiece of the Green Bay offense this season, gaining 1,084 rushing yards while also finishing second on the team with 49 receptions for another 474 yards. Jones finished the season with 19 combined touchdowns, one short of Ahman Green’s single-season franchise record.
In short, Jones is the man who makes the Packers offense go. In the three games the Packers lost this season, Jones was held to a total of 89 yards rushing on 34 carries for a meager 2.6-yard average and he scored just one touchdown. He caught seven passes in those games for 36 yards.
However, when Jones rushes for 100 or more yards, the Packers are 5-0 and the Packers also won all five games when he had 20 or more touches.
Matt LaFleur needs to find ways to get Jones involved in the offense and to get him chances to make plays because he is a threat to score anytime he touches the football.
2. WR Allen Lazard
In order to win in the postseason, the Green Bay offense will have to do more than just rely on Davante Adams as a pass catcher. The player who has stepped into the vacuum for the Packers to fill the WR2 spot is Allen Lazard.
Rodgers trusts Lazard especially on third down. In fact, 24 of Lazard’s 35 receptions resulted in first downs for the Packers.
Lazard has imposing size, good hands and is a reliable route runner. He needs to become a consistent second receiving option for the Packers if they hope to get production out of the offense in the playoffs.
3. CBs Jaire Alexander and Kevin King
The Packers defense finished the season ranked 14th in the NFL against the pass. In the playoffs, they will unquestionably be going up against some highly rated receivers regardless of which team they have to face.
While Alexander and King have been beaten at times, they have picked up their play in recent weeks and they hold the key to helping shut down opposing passing games.
King led the team with five interceptions while Alexander usually draws the job of defending the opposition’s top receiver and led the team with 17 passes defended.
Against Minnesota in Week 16, the Packers cornerback duo held the Vikings talented receiving combo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to a total of three catches for 57 yards. The Vikings offense was shut down.
The Packers will need both Alexander and King to be playing their best football if they hope to shut down the high-powered offenses of NFC contenders like the 49ers and Saints.
4. DL Kenny Clark
Clark is the key to the Packers run defense. Late in the season, Clark was back to his dominant self and he was able to clog up the middle of the defensive line and occupy multiple blockers on many plays. When he’s at his best, Clark can also penetrate and either pressure the quarterback from the inside or stop running plays in the backfield.
Clark led all Green Bay linemen with 62 total tackles and was third on the team with six sacks. The Packers will need him at his best to contain opposing running backs and compliment the pass rush from the Smith Brothers.
5. Edge Rushers Preston and Za’Darius Smith
Preston and Za’Darius Smith are a dominating duo and the best free agents the Packers have signed since Charles Woodson.
The Packers will need their new duo of edge rushers to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks whether they record sacks or not.
Pressure forces opposing QBs to rush their throws and make mistakes. It also helps create turnovers and takes opposing offenses out of rhythm.
Preston finished the season with 12 sacks while Za’Darius had a team-high 13.5. The Green Bay defense will not be at its best unless the Smiths continue to play at a high level like they have all season.
6. QB Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has been up and down this season. While he finished the season with a respectable 95.4 quarterback rating, he has been inconsistent on a game-by-game basis.
Rodgers has not been as accurate as he was in the past and he has missed throws that used to be automatic for him.
He has still had several games where he was an elite signal caller like the game against Oakland or in Kansas City. But he has struggled in other games like the season finale in Detroit or the games in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Packers will need Rodgers to make some plays at some point in the postseason if they are to win games against elite teams. The mediocre version of Rodgers will not do unless Jones runs wild or the defense is suddenly elite.
The Packers still need their future Hall of Fame quarterback to play at a high level if they hope to make a playoff run.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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