Even without Christian Watson, Packers still must push the ball downfield vs. Bears

Even without Christian Watson in the lineup on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers need to make sure that they show the Chicago Bears defense that they are still very willing to push the ball downfield.

With his speed, Watson brings a dynamic vertical presence to the Packers offense. That, of course, creates big-play potential for himself, but his simple presence on the field, through the attention that he draws from opposing defenses, can lead to more spacing for the offense to work within, which can help open up opportunities for others, not only in the passing game but in the run game as well.

Through the first half of last season, we saw the effect on this Packers offense of not regularly having Watson – or any true deep threat – on the field. Defenses essentially dared the Packers to throw the ball by playing closer to the line of scrimmage and shrinking the field. The result was that this made moving the ball on the ground and through the quick passing game much more challenging, with the field condensed and more defenders in the area.

With a first-time starting quarterback in Jordan Love and a young group of pass catchers, success on the ground and the utilization of the quick passing game once again feel like elements that the Packers offense is going to lean on. And without Watson, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears utilize a similar strategy described above in an effort to make Love and the Watson-less group of pass-catchers be the ones to beat this Chicago defense with intermediate and deep throws.

Although this year’s group of receivers and tight ends are much more inexperienced than last year’s units, this Packers offense may be better equipped to handle Watson’s absence in 2023 with the speed they can still have on the field.

During the pre-draft process, the Packers clocked Jayden Reed running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. For reference, Watson ran a 4.36. Luke Musgrave was one of the fastest tight ends in what was a very deep and athletic draft class. Romeo Doubs doesn’t have Watson’s or Reed’s speed, but it’s not as if he is slow either, and with his route running, he has the ability to win in all parts of the field.

Similarly, with Dontayvion Wicks, who is not a burner, his route-running abilities and use of double-moves allow him to make plays downfield. During the 2021 college season, he ranked 14th in total yards on passes of 20-plus yards. That same season, Samori Toure ranked 13th in the same category, according to PFF.

Whether Love and these young pass catchers will be on the same page and able to connect on these downfield attempts is an unknown, but the Packers absolutely have to try. Even if there is the belief from the Bears’ defense that Green Bay is willing to push the ball downfield, that can impact how they defend them. Hopefully, that then leads to what was already discussed, which is better spacing and more room for the offense to operate with the run and quick passing games.

A core element of the Matt LaFleur offense is utilizing the run game to set up shot plays downfield, oftentimes off of play-action. This is also a Chicago defense that last season ran a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-2 looks, which are the coverages that the Packers found a lot of success against when pushing the ball downfield in 2022.

So, although the Packers are without Watson, pushing the ball downfield – of course, not recklessly – will be a must for this offense. They have the personnel to do so. The opportunities for big plays against this defense may still be there, and if they don’t, the negative trickle-down effect to the rest of the offense may be too much to overcome.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire