On Christmas Day, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Green Bay Packers. To help preview a few topics from the Packers’ perspective, we reached out to Jon Meerdink from Acme Packing Company and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “After Week 1, the Packers had a 9-game stretch in which they were only allowing 15.7 points per game. In their past 4 games, the Packers are allowing 30.5 points per game. Is there a reason for the surge?”
Jon: “Is “they’ve stopped playing well” too simplistic? That’s basically the size of it. Other than the Rams game, the Packers haven’t really put together anything resembling a competent effort on defense or special teams in about a month. Kirk Cousins begged them to pick him off, but the Packers dropped at least four interceptions en route to giving up 34 points to the Vikings. Special teams meltdowns left and right (including a 97-yard punt return touchdown) buoyed the Bears to 30 points. An inability to cover Mark Andrews allowed the Ravens to roll up 30 more. The Packers just aren’t executing well on defense or special teams, and their opponents have started to exploit their weaknesses.”
Chris: “Are there any key injuries to be aware of on the Packers right now?”
Jon: “You guys know the trials and travails of COVID better than most, but the Packers are getting a small taste of that life right now. Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is on the COVID list this week and seems unlikely to play Saturday, which is a shame because he had probably his best game of the season last week. MVS is a true game-breaker, averaging 19.3 yards per catch on 58 receptions over the last two seasons. Losing him means losing the team’s only consistent deep threat.
Beyond that, the Packers will be without Jaire Alexander and David Bakhtiari this week. Alexander hurt his shoulder in Week 4 and hasn’t been back since, while Bakhtiari is still working his way back from a torn ACL on December 31, 2020.”
Chris: “Which position would you consider to be the most vulnerable on the Packers’ offensive line?”
Jon: “There are two, really: left tackle and right guard. Tackle was going to be a sore spot this season without David Bakhtiari, and he’s still not back. But his absence is magnified by the fact that his replacement, Elgton Jenkins, also tore his ACL this year. That’s left the Packers with third-string tackle Yosh Nijman holding down the fort on the left side. He’s been really good...for a third-string tackle. Which is to say there have been some growing pains. I expect we’ll see some more of them this week.
At right guard, the Packers have been rolling with 2021 fourth-round pick Royce Newman. He’s been playing better lately but on the whole, his rookie season has been pretty rough. If things had gone according to plan on the offensive line this year, Newman would have been out of the lineup by now. But injuries elsewhere have kept him on the field, and at this point, that’s not going to change.”
Chris: “Eric Stokes was the Packers’ first-round pick — how has he performed as a rookie?”
Jon: “Expectations were pretty high, and he’s been better than expected. The plan was to bring him along slowly, but he’s been a starter since Week 5 due to Jaire Alexander’s injury and he’s played like one. He held Marquise Brown to a long reception of seven yards last week, and while his ball skills are very much a work in progress, his elite speed consistently shows up. It looks like the Packers got a good one.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Saturday’s game.”
Jon: “I have to go with my weekly favorite: Allen Lazard. It’s not clear whether he’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body or a tight end in a wide receiver body, but at 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds, he’s a load either way. The Packers use him in a variety of ways: as a wing-back blocker, as a slot-receiver to bully smaller corners, and occasionally as a jet sweep runner. He’s pretty unique in their offense, and he’ll have a couple of plays a game that might not show up on the stat sheet, but will definitely affect the game.”
Thanks again to Jon for taking the time to answer my questions.