In this weekly opponent scout series, I'll break down the Kansas City Chiefs' upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect their matchup with the Chiefs.
In Week 9, the Green Bay Packers will visit Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs. Unfortunately, starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers will not be joining them — but they're one of the best teams in the league this season regardless.
Green Bay has played to a 7-1 record this season; it's coming off a 24-21 victory over the previously-undefeated Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.
The Packers average 24 points per game, the 16th-highest rate in the NFL this season; they rank 22nd in total yards per game. They balance the run and pass effectively, not statistically leaning on one or the other. It has led to only six turnovers, the fifth-fewest in the NFL. Green Bay has the fourth-highest offensive DVOA this year.
Defensively, the unit ranks top 10 in both points allowed and total yards allowed; ninth and seventh, respectively. It is allowing the sixth-lowest rate of net yards per attempt this year. It has also forced 14 turnovers, the fifth-most in the NFL this season. Despite good general statistics, the defense allows the 23rd-highest conversion percentage on third down — and has the 30th-ranked red-zone conversion percentage. They rank 22nd in defensive DVOA.
With no Rodgers, the Packers will start second-year quarterback Jordan Love for the first time in his young career; he was the team's first-round pick in last year's draft. He has only started preseason games — but he did get playing time late in the Packers' Week 1 blowout loss this season. He finished with 5 of 7 for 68 yards.
#Chiefs are facing Jordan Love in his first career start, but it isn't his first career playing time— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 4, 2021
Late in their Wk1 blowout loss, Love played 15 snaps and went 5/7 with 68 yards.
This was his best play from that stretch. Uncomfortable footwork, but beautiful throw pic.twitter.com/PGSq3TpB22
This pass was his best play from the game, and it's an excellent example of what to expect from Love: he drops back, doesn't look comfortable once his first read isn't there, loses his footwork, but still throws a beautifully accurate pass deep downfield on a crossing route. He has arm talent, but he may hold himself back with under-developed technique at the moment.
That said, Love is in an offensive system that won't require him to be an All-Pro quarterback to win.
First of all, Green Bay has one of the best one-two punches at running back in the NFL. Starter Aaron Jones leads the team in touches, averaging 5.1 yards each time he gets the ball. He is an elusive runner that the team trusts to be an effective receiver as well.
Backup A.J. Dillon is more of a power back, getting tough yards and being a difficult player to bring down; he also averages 5.1 yards per touch.
Packers want to attack outside the OTs, whether it's wide zone runs, toss plays, or a fun passing wrinkle they have for Aaron Jones— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 5, 2021
Last 2 plays here: Packers get in a 4x1 set with Jones as the most inside receiver on the 4-WR side. Quick & easy throw to the flat pic.twitter.com/ObCFCUMt1k
Jones is the team's most featured weapon because they can get him the ball in so many ways. He can take a traditional handoff, run a route from the backfield and be an aligned wide receiver. They try to get him to the edge of the offense as much as possible with outside zone runs, quick toss plays and a formational wrinkle that puts Jones as the most-inside receiver in a four-receiver set to one side. They'll quickly get it to him on a pass to the flat.
Jones' success is made possible with a solid offensive line that could be a lot better by Sunday: left tackle David Bakhtiari has returned to practice from time on the PUP, but Green Bay has not announced whether he will play or not. If he does, it allows his replacement Elgton Jenkins to move back to the guard position — where he has been one of the league's best in recent seasons.
On top of all that, Love will be able to depend on wide receiver Davante Adams — who has returned to practice after missing the previous week on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Adams is a nightmare for any cornerback he faces and should attract extra attention from the Chiefs' defense. Love will likely lean heavily on him because other pass-catchers like tight end Robert Tonyan or wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling will not be available.
The Packers' defensive strength currently starts up front. They have two of the most effective defensive linemen at getting pressure on the quarterback this season: defensive end Rashan Gary and defensive tackle Kenny Clark. Among all NFL players, they rank eighth and 15th in pressures, respectively.
Packers' pass rush is headed by two studs: IDL Kenny Clark and EDGE Rashan Gary— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 5, 2021
Gary has the 8th-most pressures in the NFL this season while Clark ranks 4th among IDLs in pressures. Clark constantly uses power to overwhelm the OL pic.twitter.com/zH0WPZSSkC
Clark overwhelms interior players with his power, using strong hands and the momentum of his weight to bull rush and get into the quarterback's lap effectively. Gary also wins with power primarily — but has finesse mixed in with his game, which is a significant reason why he was selected 12th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.
I love seeing an off-ball LB in Green Bay that can keep himself clean vs OL... Been awhile!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 15, 2021
De'Vondre Campbell pic.twitter.com/NiHJaLnyIy
At the second level of Green Bay's defense, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell has become a playmaker. He was just awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October, and it's hard to argue against it. In the five-game span, he earned 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception, two passes defended and two forced fumbles. The Packers trust him to play 100% of the snaps.
In the back end, the Packers have been without star cornerback Jaire Alexander since Week 5 due to injury. Even without him, the Packers haven't allowed a passing performance of over 264 yards. Rookie cornerback Eric Stokes has had to step up in Alexander's place; he's been serviceable as a substitute — but still susceptible.
If Packers' safeties play this wide against the #Chiefs, there have to be more big plays via downfield passes in the middle of the field.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 5, 2021
Mahomes is too talented for the offense to not be taking advantage of the holes in Cover 2 pic.twitter.com/NqIAy642oy
There's no reason to believe the Packers will stray away from what has worked against the Chiefs' offense this season: Two deep safeties covering the halves of the field they're aligned with man coverage or short zones underneath it. Suppose their safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage Jr. play that coverage shell with the same spacing they did against Arizona. In that case, the Chiefs' passing attack needs to take advantage of that window.
The bottom line
The Chiefs' defense got a break by not having to face a future Hall of Fame quarterback —but that doesn't mean the game has already been won. Kansas City will still have to create pressure on the young quarterback to force mistakes and inaccurate throws. On top of that, the front seven will need to be ready for a two-headed rushing attack that Green Bay can lean on heavily.
When the Chiefs have the ball, they'll have playmakers to account for at every level of the defense; the only position group that's completely outmatched for Green Bay is their cornerback group trying to handle Tyreek Hill. To slow down their pass rush, the Chiefs must be able to get chunk plays on the ground consistently.