Packers’ expected guardrails fail during disaster start to 2023 season

The Green Bay Packers entered the 2023 season believing a veteran defense packed with high picks and a run game operating behind a veteran offensive line would provide competitive guardrails while Jordan Love and a young passing game found its way early in the year.

President Mark Murphy said the defense “will have to carry us a little bit early in the season” and expected “a strong running game” to power a truer form of Matt LaFleur’s offense when he expressed optimism about the Packers’ upcoming season this summer.

Well, through eight games, Love and the young passing game are predictably struggling, but the guardrails have mostly failed, and the Packers are now 2-5 and staring down the barrel of a season that could result in a top-five pick in next year’s draft.

The defense has underperformed, relative to the high-end talent and experience (Year 3) in the scheme, while the run game still hasn’t gotten off the ground and the offensive line has sharply regressed. The result has been seven games of mostly terrible football.

Joe Barry’s defense ranks 20th in the NFL in points allowed per game, 23rd in percentage of drives ending in scores, 25th in expected points added (EPA), tied for last in takeaways, 26th in rushing yards allowed per game, 17th on third downs, 31st in fourth downs converted and tied for 18th in red-zone trips allowed. While competitive in spurts, the Packers defense — built to prevent big plays and force teams to drive the field — is struggling to get off the field, a problem only compounded by the offense’s inability to stay on the field. By DVOA, which measures performance relative to the average, the Packers defense ranks 28th.

The Packers run game ranks 23rd in yards per carry and 25th in rushing yards per game. A.J. Dillon is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Aaron Jones has 29 total carries entering Week 9. Along the offensive line, David Bakhtiari’s season ended after one game, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers and Jon Runyan Jr. haven’t played up to expectations and neither Rasheed Walker nor Yosh Nijman have provided a legitimate answer at left tackle. What was believed to be a strength up front on offense has turned into a weekly nightmare. By PFF’s run-blocking grade, the Packers rank 28th out of 32 teams.

Without a dominant or consistent defense and a run game that simply doesn’t work, the Packers have flatlined as a football team and Matt LaFleur has been completely unable to find the answers necessary to keep his team competitive.

The Packers have lost four straight games and haven’t won since Sept. 24, a game in which Green Bay had to overcome a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter against New Orleans. On Sunday, the Packers play the 3-5 Los Angeles Rams, who are coming off a 23-point loss in Dallas and might not have quarterback Matthew Stafford due to a thumb injury. Looking at the schedule, this week might be the best chance for the Packers to snap the losing streak in the next month or more. After Sunday, the Packers go on the road to Pittsburgh, host the Los Angeles Chargers, visit Detroit on Thanksgiving and then host the Kansas City Chiefs. This could get worse before it gets much better.

The passing game must improve. No two ways around it. The most obvious area for immediate and meaningful improvement in-season is with Love and the young receivers and tight ends. Winning in the NFL requires consistency in the passing game. But the Packers also need more — a lot more — from the expected guardrails of this season. Without true dominance on defense and more production from Jones and Dillon, this nightmare start to the 2023 season could spiral even further out of control in Green Bay.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire