The Green Bay Packers lost their first game of the 2020 season last week against Tampa Bay. In fact, they lost in spectacular fashion, blowing an early 10-0 lead and falling 38-10. Even with the poor performance, the Packers are 4-1 and are in good shape if they can bounce back after last week’s poor showing in every phase of the game.
But even before last week’s loss, there are players that needed to step up their game and play up to their potential for the team to remain elite.
Here is a look at five Packers players who need to perform better for the team to win consistently this season:
5. TE Jace Sternberger
With Allen Lazard out and Josiah Deguara lost for the season, the Packers need their other tight ends and receivers to step up. That means the Pack will need more from Sternberger who is off to a slow start this season.
The second-year man from Texas A&M started training camp on the Covid-19 list and there is little doubt the illness slowed his progress.
Through five games, Sternberger has only three catches for 36 yards. He has dropped at least two catchable passes and his blocking has not been exceptional either this season after he showed promise in this area in the playoffs last year.
Hopefully, as he regains his strength and stamina, Sternberger will start to make progress on what was a strong finish to 2019. Rodgers needs more reliable targets and because of the importance of tight ends in Matt LaFleur’s offense, Sternberger would be a great candidate to have a bigger role for the rest of this season if he can earn the playing time.
4. S Darnell Savage
Savage made the NFL’s all-rookie team last year after a strong performance but this year he is not off to as good a start as he was a season ago.
Opposing quarterbacks are completing 72.7 percent of their passes when throwing at receivers covered by Savage this season according to pro-football-reference.com and their quarterback rating is 145.1.
Savage is also caught too often take poor angles when trying to tackle ball carriers on running plays. His overall grades in pass defense and against the run are average at best.
It does not appear that Savage has taken a second-year jump and that must be disappointing to the Packers and their coaching staff.
3. ILB Christian Kirksey
Inside linebacker was a big question mark for the Packers entering this season and Kirksey was really the only experienced player the Pack had at the position.
He was supposed to be a replacement for the departed Blake Martinez and the coaching staff felt he would be a better fit in Mike Pettine’s defense.
Unfortunately, Kirksey didn’t get off to a strong start to the season. Yes, he made 12 total tackles in each of the team’s first two games, but like Martinez before him, many of them were far downfield and were not impact plays.
Through the first three games, Kirksey had no tackles for loss and no quarterback pressures. He was not grading out well as a run defender.
Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks were completing 90 percent of their passes when throwing to receivers covered by Kirksey and their quarterback rating was 140.0 against him.
Worse yet for the Packers, Kirksey suffered a shoulder injury in the Week 3 game against the Saints and is now on injured reserve. There is no definitive date for his return as of right now, but the Packers certainly can use someone with experience and leadership qualities like Kirksey possesses.
Once he’s healthy, the Packers will need more from Kirksey than they got in the first three games. Until he returns, Ty Summers and Oren Burks also need to step up and do more while they are in the lineup opposite rookie Krys Barnes who has looked good especially against the run this season.
2. WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Watching MVS is often a very frustrating experience. You can see the talent is there, that he has the speed and smarts to be effective, but the consistency isn’t there and despite all the praise between them, it does not appear that Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling have great chemistry yet in the passing game.
Sometimes, MVS makes great catches that move the chains and pick up key first downs. His speed also makes him a deep threat that opposing defenses always need to respect on every play.
But, thus far this season, Valdes-Scantling has 15 catches in 30 targets, a mere 50 percent catch rate. That is slightly above his mark last season and slightly below what he did his rookie year but it’s a number that needs to improve as he and Rodgers gain confidence in each other.
Quite simply, MVS needs to be more consistent if he is to take over as a starter with Lazard out indefinitely with a core muscle injury since the Packers other available receivers are inexperienced and unproven.
1. OLB Preston Smith
OLB Preston Smith had a career year in 2019 after signing with the Packers as a free agent. Unfortunately, his numbers have fallen off significantly in 2020 and the defense needs him to get closer to his form of a year ago.
Through five games, Preston Smith has just nine total tackles and 0.5 sacks, well off his pace from a year ago. He has also been credited with just two quarterback hits while he had 23 in 2019.
In his defense, the Packers have asked Preston to drop back into coverage more often this season than they did a year ago, but his pass coverage and run defending grades have been mediocre at best.
If Preston Smith can return to form, the Green Bay defense could be a lot more effective while giving opposing quarterbacks more problems like they did for most of 2019.
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