The Green Bay Packers finished the 2020 season with a 13-3-0 mark, the same record they had in 2019. Yet, there is little doubt that this year’s edition of the Packers is a stronger overall team than last year’s club.
The numbers back this up in many ways. Here is a look at six reasons this year’s edition of the Packers is better than last season’s group.
- Point Differential
This is a straightforward metric. The 2020 Packers scored a lot more points than their 2019 counterparts. Green Bay put up 509 points this season, topping 30 points in a game in 12 of the 16 regular season games. Last season, the Packers scored 376 points, an improvement of 133 points. That’s an average of 8.3-points per game.
Defensively, the Packers were slightly better last season, giving up 313 points. In 2020, the Packers allowed 369 points, a difference of 56 points. The defense faced more quality quarterbacks this season than last and improved in the second half of the year.
Overall, the Packers point differential in 2019 was plus-63 while in 2020, the differential was plus-140. That’s an improvement of 77 points.
- Aaron Rodgers Is Clearly Better This Season
The modern NFL is a quarterback driven league and the Packers clearly got better quarterback play from Aaron Rodgers in 2020 than they did a year ago. Last year, A-Rod made the Pro Bowl, partially due to his reputation. This season, he is the frontrunner for league MVP.
The numbers are clearly better across the board in 2020 for Rodgers. He threw a career-best 48 touchdown passes this year compared to 26 a year ago. His completion percentage went up from 62.0 in 2019 to 70.7 in 2020. His quarterback rating was also higher, 121.5 in 2020 as compared to 95.4 in 2019.
Rodgers has been playing at a Hall of Fame level again and his improved play is the engine that makes the Packers offense go.
- Matt LaFleur
Matt LaFleur is more confident and more comfortable in his second year as head coach of the Packers and the team is more comfortable with him and his system.
The second-year head coach helped keep the team unified through a difficult offseason that included the cancellation of mini-camps, OTAs and preseason games. The Covid-19 pandemic made this an unusual season for everybody, but LaFleur kept his team together and cohesive throughout the year.
His ability to integrate more of his offensive system complete with pre-snap motion was also important and he was also able to get Rodgers on board with this system while making key adjustments to allow Rodgers to still do what he does best.
LaFleur’s ability as a play caller improved in year two and the Packers were extremely productive when using his scripted plays at the start of each game. He also did a better job this year in making in-game adjustments this season.
LaFleur is a better coach in year two and the Packers are a better team because of it.
- Key Players Made a Second Year Jump
Several key players made second-year jumps, mainly on defense and that helped make the Packers a better team.
Last year’s first-round picks, Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage both entered their sophomore season this year and they both showed improved play. Gary improved from two sacks as a rookie to five sacks this season despite playing through several nagging injuries.
The former Michigan star also was provided consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and was credited with 19 pressures, eight hurries, 11 quarterback hits and five tackles for loss this season. Several of those pressures helped teammates get sacks or caused poor throws by opposing quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Savage got off to a shaky start to the season but found his groove in the last half of the year and started making splash plays.
Savage finished 2020 with four interceptions, double his 2019 total. He recorded his first career sack, broke up 12 passes (up from five a year ago), made three tackles for loss and his tackle total went up from 55 in his rookie season to 75 in 2020.
Savage is rapidly becoming a playmaker and a difference maker and that has had a positive impact on the defense.
- Davante Adams and Robert Tonyan
Davante Adams was extremely good in 2019 but he was possibly the best receiver in football in 2020. Adams caught 115 passes this season, up from 83 in 2019. His touchdown total also went up from five last season to a franchise-record tying 18 in 2020.
Adams was able to make plays on short and deep patterns and lined up outside and in the slot, depending on the play and the formation. Adams has outstanding chemistry with Rodgers and is almost impossible to cover one-on-one.
Meanwhile, the Packers also got more production from tight end Robert Tonyan this season than they got from Jimmy Graham in 2019.
Tonyan caught 52 passes on just 59 targets this season, an impressive 88.1 percent catch percentage according to pro-football-reference.com. He also caught 11 touchdowns this season, more than Graham had in his two seasons in Green Bay combined.
Last season, Graham made 38 catches and had just three touchdowns. His catch percentage was just 63.3 percent. Graham was a major disappointment during his two seasons in Green Bay and Tonyan was a step up for the team. Tonyan deserved Pro Bowl honors this year but was not voted to the team. Either way, the Packers got better play at the tight end position in 2020 than they did in 2019.
- The Versatility of the Offensive Line
The Packers offensive line has been hit hard by injuries this year and before the season even started, starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga signed with the Chargers in free agency. The Packers also lost starting right guard Lane Taylor during the season opener in Minnesota. Injuries also cost the Packers Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari for four games and center Corey Linsley for three. Yet the Packers offensive line played at least as well this year than they did a year ago if not better.
GM Brian Gutekunst emphasized the need for versatility along the offensive line and it paid off. Elgton Jenkins made the Pro Bowl in his second season and started games at guard, center and tackle. Lucas Patrick played both guard positions and played well for most of the season. Billy Turner played both tackle positions and guard and showed a lot of improvement over last year’s performance. Rick Wagner did a solid job filling in at tackle and started nine games while playing in all 16.
Overall, the Packers offensive line allowed just 20 sacks all season in 2020 after allowing 36 a year ago. The team also gained 2,118 yards on the ground and averaged 4.8-yards per carry in 2020. In 2019, the Pack gained just 1,795 yards rushing for the season and averaged 4.4-yards per attempt.
The offensive line play was stronger overall in 2020 despite losing Bulaga and suffering more injuries this season.
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