Monday Musings: ‘Big Dog’ Returns
Jordan Love has yet to take a snap, and he’s already had a better career with the Packers than the player picked in the first round 40 years before him. That’s because Penn State defensive tackle Bruce Clark actually preferred Toronto of the Canadian Football League to Green Bay, the Siberia of the NFL back then. Anyway, on a much cheerier note, here are three more Packers-related thoughts that went through my head in the past few days.
1) The acquisition of Marcedes Lewis in May 2018 was barely noticed at the time since it came two months after general manager Brian Gutekunst signed 5-time All-Pro Jimmy Graham to a $30 million deal. Three years later, Graham is long gone while Lewis just signed his fourth contract with the Packers. The deal makes the former UCLA star one of the highest-paid backup tight ends in the league. Not too shabby for a player who seriously considered retirement two years ago. At nearly 37, Lewis would struggle to break 5.0 in the 40 these days, but he’s still a very good run blocker. And for a team that invested $48 million in Aaron Jones and a second-round pick on A.J. Dillon in the past 11 months, this skill makes Lewis worth every bit of the $3 million he’s going to be paid in 2021.
The pancakes are great, but doing the little things correctly is what makes Lewis (#89) so effective as a run blocker. On this play from late in the 2019 season, he does a great job of keeping his body square, delivering a punch to the chest with both hands, and driving his feet. This takes Washington linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (#51) completely out of the play and allows running back Aaron Jones to go untouched up the middle for 42 yards.
2) The Packers might be returning all but one starter from last season’s No. 1 offense, but that one starter is darn important. Corey Linsley, who signed a $62 million contract with the Chargers a few weeks ago, was named first-team All-Pro for a very good reason. Not only was the former Ohio State star almost unbeatable in protection, but he knew exactly when to give help to Lucas Patrick. He was also a major reason why Green Bay’s backs were more effective running between the guards (5.3 yards per carry) than outside the tackles (4.8 yards per carry). And while it’s true the offense did just fine in the three games Linsley missed in December, those games were against defenses that finished the season ranked 18th (Philadelphia), 19th (Carolina), and 32nd (Detroit) in the league.
3) I first wrote about the Packers’ lack of speed at linebacker in 2012, and things are only marginally better nine years later. Aside from Rashan Gary (4.56), who played 45% of the snaps last season, there are too many plodders at a time when offenses are adding thoroughbreds at every position. Preston Smith (4.74), Za’Darius Smith (4.83), Krys Barnes (4.77), and Kamal Martin (est. 4.65) play marginally faster than their times, but often not fast enough to keep a back from taking a screen pass 50 yards for a touchdown or a tight end from picking up 30 yards on a seam route. At a time when so many defenses in college football resemble Olympic relay teams, it’s difficult to understand why the Packers still look a lot like a defense from the late 1970s – minus, of course, the extreme physicality.