The Packers’ first quarter struggles are a bizarre mystery

Green Bay Packers, Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

As a general principle, the best win-loss records in the NFL are awarded to the teams who can sustain solid play throughout all four quarters of a game. The Green Bay Packers have torn that principle to shreds this season.

At 12-3, the Packers hold the best record in the NFL, however for the third straight season they’ve had some trouble putting away teams in the latter stages of games. The last two weeks against Baltimore and Cleveland are prime examples of this ongoing trend.

However, that’s not what the topic in question is today. While the Packers struggle to put away their opponents late on, the way they start games is even worse. Per, Green Bay are currently ranked 26th in the NFL in first-quarter points scored — which is an utterly bizarre sight for a team that has won 80% of its games.

I know what you’re thinking — the Packers’ lack of first quarter points is simply because they usually defer on the opening coin flip. Well, that’s not the case at all. In fact, the Packers have started the game on offense in eight of their 15 games this season.

Luckily for us, the Packers’ offense counteracts these slow starts by morphing into a fire-breathing dragon in the second quarter — where they rank first in the league in points. Second-quarter success isn’t anything new to this team. Last season they averaged a gargantuan 13.6 second-quarter points, the most of any team in NFL history.

This second quarter success is a testament to how Matt LaFleur doesn’t let panic creep into his play-calling. He’s still willing to trust the run game despite acquiring the early deficit.

But why is it that the Packers consistently find themselves down early on. It’s gotten to the point where as fans, we have been conditioned to relax and trust the Packers to come alive at some point.

However, there comes a day when LaFleur goes to put the key in the ignition and the engine simply doesn’t turn on. When the Packers find themselves stuck in first gear for longer than expected, deficits can become insurmountable very, very quickly.

You could argue that the Packers treat the first quarter as a bit of a feeling out process, where they’ll set up plays to burn their opponent later on in the game. But even if that is the case, it shouldn’t have to come at the detriment of your ability to put points on the board on your opening couple of drives.

The story doesn’t get any better on defense

As I mentioned earlier, the Packers are 26th in first-quarter points scored. So maybe it’s their defense that keeps them in these contests early on? Nope. Not at all.

The Packers’ defense is allowing the seventh-most first-quarter points in the NFL. So when combining the two together, the Packers have been outscored 77-40 across all first quarters this season. Let me remind you this team is 12-3.

If this trend continues throughout the last two games, the Packers would be the first #1 seed in NFL history to rank 25th or lower in both first-quarter offense and first-quarter defense.

Where does the defense find its success?

We already know the offense starts poorly and evolves into a monster in the second quarter. So how does Joe Barry’s unit make up for their early struggles?

Well, they’re a pretty average unit in the second quarter of games, but they’ve been quietly tremendous after halftime. The Packers have allowed just 34 third-quarter points all season — tied with the Buffalo Bills for the fewest in the NFL.

I would even argue you could subtract seven points from that total of 34 to account for Rasul Douglas’ third quarter pick-six of Matthew Stafford.

I’m not sure how much credit Barry deserves for halftime adjustments because we’ve seen teams have success doing the same thing over and over again for entire games with no major switch-ups from Barry — see Nick Chubb and Mark Andrews for further details.

The Packers MUST resolve this issue

When teams like the Packers are contending for Super Bowls, you’ll find a lot of lists around this time of year marking out the few things that can go wrong which will cause the downfall of this team.

For as big of a concern as Maurice Drayton’s special teams unit is, I believe the slow starts are much more concerning, simply because they can spiral out of control. When you find yourself down 14 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January, good luck, thanks for coming, we’ll see you in September.

That’s why it’s crucial that Green Bay are able to shake this bug over the next two weeks. On Sunday, they’ve got a primetime game at Lambeau Field in January, with weather forecasts predicting 4°F at kickoff against a team who plays indoors. There is simply no excuse to start slow again.

If anything, it should be your opponent who’s starting slow as they acclimate to the conditions of what it’s like to play on the frozen tundra.