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Packers' aggressive mindset translating to faster starts

Since taking ball in Detroit, Green Bay has outscored opponents 65-18 in first quarter

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – Adjustments are required to traverse each NFL season and the 2023 campaign has been no different for the Packers.

Among several key turning points during Green Bay's late-season surge was its Week 12 matchup with the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

Sitting at 4-6 and having scored just 20 combined points in the first quarter of their first 10 games, the Packers looked to cut a clearer path to a fast start in what was sure to be a challenging road environment at Ford Field.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur and his staff drove that message home in meetings and on the practice field leading up to the game, but the coaches also knew they had a part to play in manifesting a fast-start mentality on gameday.

So, after winning the coin toss, LaFleur did something he'd never done in 4½ years as Green Bay's head coach – he took the ball and put his offense on the field rather than deferring like he had during the previous 39 coin tosses the Packers won.

Quarterback Jordan Love led the offense down the field on a five-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Reed. Green Bay scored 20 points in the first quarter en route to the 29-22 victory.

That aggressive mindset laid the foundation for a resurgent second half for Green Bay, which has won seven of its last nine entering Saturday's NFC Divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.

"I think the guys just feed off it," offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. "The confidence the coaches have in the players – their confidence, their excitement to go get the ball and get going. Anytime you can start fast and get seven points on the board in that first drive, I think that sets the tone for the entire game."

A lot has gone into the offense's uptick, including Love's outstanding play, Aaron Jones' return from injury, the galvanization of the offensive line and a litany of young pass-catchers like Reed stepping up when called upon.

Getting off to quicker starts has also aided that effort. Over the final seven games of the regular season, no team scored more first-quarter points than the Packers' 58. Their plus-40 scoring differential in the first quarter also tops the league over that span, according to StatHead.

Several of those game-opening drives have come as a result of taking the football. Since Detroit, the Packers have elected to receive four times. It hasn't always been perfect. The offense punted on its first possession in New York and went three-and-out at Minnesota, but that mentality appears to have sped the offense's pace.

During Sunday's wild-card game in Dallas, Green Bay chose to receive after winning the coin toss in a hostile AT&T Stadium. Guard Jon Runyan described the atmosphere as "deafening" when the Packers took the field on that first possession.

Undeterred, the Packers orchestrated a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ate nearly eight minutes off the clock before Jones punched in a 3-yard touchdown, the first of six TD-producing drives in Green Bay's first seven possessions.

"I think it's the mentality, Coach LaFleur has been going out there and wanting the ball (after) the coin toss," Runyan said. "If you don't start fast, you kind of feel like you're fighting uphill even more. That first drive, that first third down, that was one of the loudest crowds I've ever heard.

"As the game went forward, the second quarter, third quarter, the crowd got really quiet. It helps starting fast, putting 20 points on the board immediately, having their offense be in the two-minute mode. … On the road, starting fast in a playoff game, it's a must-have really."

Including the 48-32 playoff win in Dallas, the Packers have outscored opponents 65-18 in the first quarter and 137-58 in the first half over their last eight games. It's a colossal changeup from the first 10 games of the season when Green Bay was outscored 47-20 in the first quarter and 118-59 in the first half.

The strategy seems to have benefited Green Bay's defense, as well. When staked to early leads, the Packers have fashioned some of their best defensive performances of the year against Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota and Chicago.

"Anytime you can get some momentum like that early on and you're able to continue to ride on that momentum, I think it's huge for a team," receiver Christian Watson said. "Us starting like that, it gives the defense confidence. The defense can go out there and do what they're doing. It gives the offense more confidence. It just complements what everyone is doing."

Achieving a fast start obviously is more than winning a coin toss and scoring on a first possession, but the Packers know how critical early points can be against a San Francisco squad that was second in first-quarter scoring (115) and third in first-half scoring (267) during the regular season.

The leader in both categories? The same Dallas Cowboys team the Packers turned back this past Sunday at AT&T Stadium to advance to Santa Clara.

"I think that gives us the edge to know we gotta start fast – punch the ball in early and it's been working well for us the last few weeks," Reed said. "We just gotta attack it the same every week.

"That's gonna be a hostile environment going down there against a great defense. We just gotta start the same, how we've been preparing every week and just start fast."

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