Besides rest and recovery, Packers focused on key areas over bye week

Coaches address health, red zone, special teams

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RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – As the Packers' players and coaches prepared to take their week off for the bye, here are some top-of-mind issues that were addressed Monday:

Health

There are no guarantees, but the Packers are holding out hope several starters can return from injuries before the end of the regular season.

LaFleur didn't provide any timelines, or promise that anyone would be back immediately after the bye, but the list of players to keep an eye on includes left tackle David Bakhtiari, cornerback Jaire Alexander, center Josh Myers and edge rusher Za'Darius Smith.

The fact that running back Aaron Jones, edge rusher Rashan Gary and receiver Allen Lazard all returned from one-week absences just before the bye was already a positive sign for the team's health.

Meanwhile, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is "gathering other opinions" on how to best care for his fractured pinky toe during the time off, and there's no update on the severity of the groin injury that sidelined receiver Randall Cobb for the second half Sunday. Cobb caught four passes for 95 yards and a TD in the first half and got hurt on his touchdown, a 7-yard reception on an end-zone slant.

The players are now off until next Monday after playing 12 regular-season games without a break, and the rest will do both the injured as well as healthy players good.

"These guys have been grinding hard," LaFleur said. "I was really impressed with everybody's ability to stay focused and make sure that they gave their best effort last night."

Red-zone offense

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett didn't hesitate when asked what his self-scout will be concentrated on – the gold zone, as he calls it.

After leading the league with a historically high 80% touchdown efficiency a year ago, the Packers came into this past week ranked just 24th at 55% and then stalled out on two more opportunities vs. the Rams, going 3-for-5.

"We set such a high standard and I think that we really need to look at that and make sure we're doing the right things, see what people are doing to stop us or what we're doing and how we might be hurting ourselves, and just make sure we've got a good package going into these last five games," Hackett said. "It's December football now. You're going to have to score in the gold zone."

Hackett feels it's gone in phases in recent years, with Jones racking up a bunch of rushing TDs in 2019, which led to more openings in the passing game in 2020. He said it still comes back to running the ball effectively inside the opponents' 20-yard line so defense have to commit to stopping it.

"Which will then open up some passes," he said. "It's about being consistent and being able to execute down there."

Special teams

In a season of ups, downs and progress, the Packers' punt and kickoff coverage teams are proving to be the strengths of the unit, the return games have the furthest to go, and the field-goal operation is getting smoothed out.

Forcing a fumble on a punt return and downing a 61-yard Corey Bojorquez punt at the 1-yard line were the highlights vs. the Rams as indiviuals such as Equanimeous St. Brown and others have "made their mark" on special teams, according to LaFleur.

Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton noted the Lambeau Field winds were "horrific" and "tricky" on Sunday, which prompted the coaches to substitute Randall Cobb for rookie Amari Rodgers on punt return, but then Cobb muffed one anyway.

Also, the much-maligned PAT/FG unit turned in a near-perfect day, as clean snaps, holds and protection led to seven straight made kicks (four PATs, three FGs) without incident before kicker Mason Crosby clanked the upright on his final field-goal attempt.

Both LaFleur and Drayton used the word "encouraged" to describe where things are headed.

"Is it perfect? Absolutely not, and we'll continue to work on the things that aren't perfect," LaFleur said. "I think these guys have really taken special teams to heart. I think there's a great energy with the guys that are out there playing."

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