Behind Enemy Lines
(Spencer Hazen, Getty Images, ESNY)

Boy Green went “Behind Enemy Lines” to chat with Ryan Wood of The Green Bay Press-Gazette to learn more about the Green Bay Packers before their New York Jets matchup.

What would seem to be a meaningless game in December between two teams who are both already eliminated from postseason contention is sort of exactly that. But there are intriguing storylines in this game between the New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers.

One is Mike McCarthy, the former Green Bay lead man. Would he be on top of the Jets wish list for head coach? Boy Green spoke about that topic with Green Bay Packers Insider Ryan Day on The Jets Zone, a weekly New York Jets podcast.

But to learn more about this matchup, here are the five burning questions heading into this one as Boy Green goes “Behind Enemy Lines”:

1. What went wrong this season for the Pack?

A lot … would be the short answer, but here are two other words to really narrow it down: situational football.

Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers historically have been good at avoiding penalties, converting third downs, finishing in the red zone and creating turnovers. These Packers did none of that.

They were one of the NFL’s most penalized teams through the first six weeks when their season started to go sideways. They rank 22nd on third down (36.9 percent). They’re 15th in red-zone efficiency (59.5 percent). So despite ranking 10th in yards, they’re 16th in points. And as improved as their defense has been, it ranks 21st in takeaways.

These are positions in the rankings the Packers simply haven’t been very often over the past decade. So for all the talk this season about Mike McCarthy’s offense growing stale and the rift between head coach and quarterback, the bottom line is the Packers just haven’t been good situationally.

2. The Green Bay Packers have been officially eliminated from playoff contention and have fired their head coach. What’s the motivation for the rest of the season?

It would be disingenuous to say there really is tangible motivation in these final two games. This is a team that’s Super Bowl or bust so long as Aaron Rodgers is taking snaps. So to be eliminated from the playoffs before Week 16 for the second straight season, motivation isn’t – and shouldn’t be – overflowing right now.

That said, Aaron Rodgers is bound and determined to play out this season for a reason. For one, it would send a terrible message to the locker room if he voluntarily put himself on the sideline. But despite the inherent risk that comes with him playing, there’s a benefit that could be had.

The Packers passing game continues to be disjointed, and a big reason is that its rookie receivers need more exposure to Rodgers. The challenge of having him as your quarterback is getting a feel for how he extends plays, and that takes time and snaps.

So the motivation, if there is any, is to get this passing game in better order for next season, because regardless who’s coaching next year, Rodgers’ play extensions aren’t going anywhere.

3. Let’s go through the pieces on offense. On paper, Jimmy Graham and Aaron Rodgers was a match made in heaven, why didn’t it work? DaVante Adams seems to have come into his own with the first 1,000-yard season of his career. What makes him so special?

Well, Jimmy Graham just turned 32 last month, and he’s played like it. Which is to say he no longer runs like he did when he was 27. But he’s still 6-foot-7 and if speed diminishes with age, size doesn’t shrink. So it’s stunning that he’s only had two touchdown catches, and that he hasn’t been the cure for the Packers’ red-zone issues. (This is kind of chicken and egg; are the Packers bad in the red zone because Jimmy Graham hasn’t produced there, or has Graham not produced there simply because there are so many issues in the red zone?)

It takes time for new receiving targets to get their timing and feel with Rodgers (see above), and that could be part of it. Bottom line is the Packers have an interesting decision to make here. They made Graham’s the NFL’s highest-paid tight end this season with a $10 million annual average over three years, and while his numbers aren’t necessarily bad, they certainly aren’t impactful. They owe Graham a $5 million roster bonus in March, and it’s easy to see the Packers not wanting to pay it. But the Packers have also been desperate for some stability at the tight end position for years now, so there’s merit in bringing him back for a second year. The problem is he’ll count $12.6 million against the 2019 cap, which is outrageous. So I’m curious to see what they do here.

As for Davante Adams, the word that has come to define him is “releases.” It’s possible nobody in the NFL gets off the line of scrimmage better. He’s more of an Antonio Brown than a Julio Jones, a master of technique that allows him to overcome whatever he’s lacking in athleticism.

But Adams is, simply, one of the very best receivers in the NFL and he’s been the Packers best player this season.

4. What about the defense? Who are the straws that stir the drink for this team and how have they performed this year?

Honestly, the straw that stirs the drink for the Packers defense is coordinator Mike Pettine. He’s made a big difference for a unit that’s still hamstrung with limitations in personnel, most glaringly at edge rush and safety.

Given their lack of edge rush, it’s stunning that the Packers somehow are tied for seventh in the league with 41 sacks. (To put this in perspective, Clay Matthews has just 3.5 sacks this season.) The Packers defense needs major work this offseason, but here is a young core to build around with defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, inside linebacker Blake Martinez, cornerback Jaire Alexander and, potentially, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell.

If they can somehow convince Mike Pettine to stay as defensive coordinator and pair him with a new, offensive-minded head coach, all the better.

5. Finally, how do you see this game playing out on Sunday?

Yeah, like I said in the podcast, this is one where no matter who you pick to win, you’re not going to really feel good about it. I’d feel much more comfortable picking both these teams to lose, if possible. But Aaron Rodgers is going to play this week, and I think he’s motivated to finally get a road win, which hasn’t happened this season.

The last time a Packers team went a full season without a road win was 1958, the year before Vince Lombardi arrived. As Rodgers said this week, he’d prefer this team not to be that kind of statistic. So I’ll say the Packers do just enough to win, but nothing would surprise me.

People call me Boy Green for my unwavering dedication to all things New York Jets. I work at The Score 1260 in Syracuse and I'm extremely passionate about sports. I aspire to continue my rise through the business and hopefully I'll end up working for the New York Jets in some capacity.