With the Colts facing their toughest opponent to date, I reached talked with Jon Meerdink of Acme Packing Company to get an idea what the Colts would be facing Sunday when the Packers come to town. Here’s what Jon had to say:
The Packers drafted QB Jordan Love, a favorite of Colts fans during draft season, with their first-round pick. Since that time, Aaron Rodgers has been on a complete tear, having an MVP-caliber season. Do you think Rodgers’ great season is more a product of time in the offense under Matt LaFleur, or is he fueling this performance purely by way of the chip on his shoulder?
While one can never discount pettiness when Aaron Rodgers is involved, I don’t think he’s playing well this year out of spite. I’m firmly of the mindset that he’s playing better this year precisely because of what you mentioned: he’s had plenty of time to get comfortable in Matt LaFleur’s offense, and that’s making all the difference. Rodgers is, at his heart, a very professorial player. He demands a full understanding of everything he does and it’s clear that last year, he was not entirely on board with the changes from Mike McCarthy’s system. There were more than a few times he spit the bit and seemed to try to force the LaFleur offense to be something it wasn’t.
But this year, he seems fully bought in, and the results speak for themselves. Rodgers has mentioned many times how valuable it was to get extra classroom time this offseason thanks to the pandemic changing the way everyone had to conduct their offseason programs, and I think we’ve seen that play out on the field.
If you were the Colts offensive staff, what is the game plan you’re putting together to challenge the Packers’ defense?
Start from the middle and work your way out. The big, screaming weakness on the Packers’ defense is their inside linebackers. It’s been that way for more than a decade now. Currently, the Packers are counting on oft-injured Christian Kirksey, 2020 fifth-round pick Kamal Martin, and 2019 seventh-round pick Ty Summers to make plays there, and they’re just not. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine often tries to get a little more juice from the spot by swapping in a safety, but that has some negative trade-offs too, often showing up in the Packers’ run defense.
Beyond that, you’d do well to just take what Pettine gives you: chances are, he’s going to give you a lot. He’s not overly aggressive with blitzes and has tended toward a lot of soft zone, especially with the Packers’ top two cornerbacks ailing of late. If Philip Rivers gets time to read and just takes what’s in front of him, he could carve up the Packers. I pretty much expect that he will.
On the defensive side, if you were Colts DC Matt Eberflus, what is your game plan for limiting the offense of the Packers?
The best thing you can do is goad the Packers into inefficient play. LaFleur has done wonders with the Packers’ offense overall, but he has a couple of weird ticks. First among them is his strange insistence on running the ball on second and long, about the most inefficient thing you could possibly do. So with that in mind, Eberflus should do what he can to prevent Davante Adams from creating big splash plays, then clean up when LaFleur goes conservative in non-optimal situations. Get the Packers into third and long and they’ll melt.
How has the rookie class looked this season so far?
In short, they haven’t looked like much of anything. They’ve seen the field at a historically low rate. I wrote a piece after Week 4 about how little the 2020 class is playing, and that really hasn’t changed.
As a quick recap: first-round pick Jordan Love has been inactive for every game, and trading up to get him wiped out the Packers’ 2020 fourth-round pick as well. Second-round pick A.J. Dillon played about 50 snaps over seven games before he ended up on the COVID-19 reserve list. Third-round pick Josiah Deguara played one game, got hurt, missed three games, then tore his ACL in his first game back. Fifth-round pick Kamal Martin was on IR for most of the first month and a half of the season with a torn meniscus. The rest of the draft from there has been an assortment of practice squad players and deep bench guys. It’s been ... underwhelming.
Now, if Jordan Love turns out to be the quarterback of the future, it redeems the entire class. But for now, the Packers aren’t getting any meaningful contributions from this class at all, and that doesn’t figure to change until next season at the earliest.
Who are the under the radar players on offense and defense that Colts fans should be aware of?
On offense, Allen Lazard is the big wild card right now. He’s back on the active roster for the first time since mid-October after having surgery to correct a core muscle injury. He may not play this Sunday, but prior to his injury, he was one of the most efficient receivers in the league. Getting him back will be huge for the Packers’ stretch run, and if he contributes at all this week, it’ll be a huge plus.
On defense, slot corner Chandon Sullivan is the man to watch. He’s been a little out of his comfort zone the past couple weeks as he’s had to play a bigger role with Jaire Alexander and Kevin King out, but both look like good bets to be back in the lineup on Sunday. That will allow Sullivan to slide back into the slot, where he’s been very effective. He’s not a burner by any means, but he has better length than you’d expect for a guy listed at 5-11, and he uses that to make life difficult for slot receivers.
Thanks again to Jon for his time and answers.