Sunday, October 17, 2021

Guided by Road Sage, Packers Triumph in Chicago

 By Eric Goska

Under head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers have won
15 of their last 20 regular-season road games.
(screenshot from NFL Game Pass)

Forget TomTom or Garmin.

Matt LaFleur may be the best option when it comes to successfully navigating the road.

The Packers head coach saw his team down the Chicago Bears 24-14 at Soldier Field in Week 6. For LeFleur, it was merely the latest in an ever-rising number of wins away from Lambeau Field.

Throughout the last half century – and likely long before that – the best teams found ways to win on the road. Only three of the 102 conference champions since 1970 had losing records away from home during the regular season: the 2008 Cardinals (3-5), the 2010 Packers (3-5) and the 2018 Patriots (3-5).

Of course, each of those three clubs had to win at least once on the road in the postseason in order to reach the Super Bowl.

Laying claim to a conference championship remains a priority for the Packers after having come up short in the last two. Winning while crisscrossing the country can’t hurt their quest to land a third straight berth.

LeFleur has enjoyed success outside Wisconsin more so than any of his predecessors in Green Bay. Sunday was his 15th regular-season road victory – against five losses – since becoming the team’s 15th head coach on Jan. 8, 2019.

No big deal? Think again.

Vince Lombardi (13-7), Mike McCarthy (13-7) and Mike Sherman (11-9) – three of the best in team history – had poorer starts than LaFleur. Another, Mike Holmgren (7-13), never reached .500 during his seven years in Green Bay.

LaFleur has taken to the road from the start. Green Bay outlasted Chicago 10-3 at Soldier Field in his coaching debut, and then tacked on victories in Dallas and Kansas City before tasting defeat at the hands of the Chargers.

The Packers fashioned 6-2 records away from Lambeau Field in both 2019 and 2020. This year, the team has reeled off three straight after laying an egg in the opener against the Saints.

That success places the Green and Gold among the best in the business. Only the Chiefs (17-2), Saints (15-4), Ravens (15-4) and Bills (14-4) have a better winning percentage on the road since 2019.

So how have LaFleur and the Packers done it? There are myriad reasons, but we’ll touch upon two: turnovers and quarterback play.

Turnovers

Green Bay did not have a turnover in Chicago while the Bears gave up one when safety Darnell Savage intercepted rookie quarterback Justin Fields in the end zone. In their 15 road wins, the Packers have turned the ball over six times while the opposition has coughed it up 22 times. Green Bay has scored 89 points as a result of those miscues; its opponents just 13.

Quarterback Play

Aaron Rodgers has posted a higher passer rating than his counterpart in 14 of those 15 wins. The exception: Drew Brees engineered a 127.8 to Rodgers’ 124.9 in Green Bay’s 37-30 triumph in New Orleans in 2020.

In Chicago, Rodgers completed 17 of 23 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers may not excite, but his rating (128.0) was more than 50 points better than that of Fields who compiled a mark of 75.2 on 16 completions in 27 attempts for 174 yards with a touchdown and interception.

In 15 road victories under LaFleur, Green Bay’s passer rating is 113.1. That’s noticeably higher than the 85.8 of the competition.

Quarterback Play in the Packers-Bears Rivalry

Superior play at quarterback has helped the Packers win 44 of the last 59 regular-season meetings with the Bears. The incredible run started in 1992 and has been orchestrated primarily with just two passers – Rodgers and Brett Favre – at the helm.

Forty-seven times Green Bay posted the better passer rating. Forty-two times it emerged victorious.

Hitting 100, as Rodgers did Sunday, has been an even better harbinger of success, one that predates 1992. The Green and Gold has won the last 26 meetings with Chicago when they hit or exceed that number.

Their last loss: Nov. 3, 1968 when Gale Sayers’ 205 rushing yards trumped Bart Starr’s 102.5 rating. Starr completed 10 of 18 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown in the 13-10 loss.

On the Road Again
How Packers head coaches fared in their first 20 regular-season road games.
 
         Record         Coach                                    Years
            15-5            Matt LaFleur                      2019-2021
            13-7            Vince Lombardi                 1959-1962
            13-7            Mike McCarthy                 2006-2008
            11-9            Mike Sherman                  2000-2002
          9-10-1          Phil Bengtson                    1968-1970
          8-11-1          Dan Devine                         1971-1973
            8-12            Lindy Infante                     1988-1990
            7-13            Forrest Gregg                    1984-1986
            7-13            Mike Holmgren                 1992-1994
          6-11-3          Curly Lambeau                  1921-1925
            6-14            Lisle Blackbourn                1954-1957
            5-15            Gene Ronzani                    1950-1953
            4-16            Bart Starr                             1975-1977

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