Pack­ers fall­ing into sim­i­lar pat­tern

Packer Plus - - News - Pete Dougherty Colum­nist

— The Green Bay Pack­ers are in some early trou­ble.

It’s not just that they’re 2-2-1 af­ter a poor per­for­mance in their 31-23 loss to NFC North Divi­sion ri­val Detroit, a game that wasn’t as close as the score sug­gested.

The Pack­ers have had bad starts be­fore and re­bounded. Think 2014, when af­ter open­ing 1-2 Aaron Rodgers told ev­ery­one to R-E-L-A-X. Those Pack­ers ended up play­ing in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game.

They’ve also been in more dire straits, such as 2016, when they were 4-6 at one point. Rodgers said they’d run the ta­ble, and sure enough they did, all the way to the con­fer­ence ti­tle game again.

But there were no ad­mo­ni­tions or bold pre­dic­tions Sun­day. Not af­ter Rodgers’ and coach Mike McCarthy’s of­fense put in an­other hor­rid first half, the third in five games this sea­son, and co­or­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine’s de­fense, a week af­ter pitch­ing a shutout against Buf­falo rookie Josh Allen, was bat­tered and gashed when matched against a real NFL quar­ter­back.

“Con­cerned is kind of a buzz word that’s go­ing to make a head­line if I agree with you,” Rodgers said when asked if he’s con­cerned, “so I’m go­ing to say I’m aware of where we’re at and we have to play bet­ter, my­self in­cluded. I got to start faster, like we’ve done over the years.”

Watch­ing the Pack­ers through nearly one-third of the 2018 sea­son, you don’t get the feel of a dan­ger­ous team in the mak­ing. Take that for what it’s worth. NFL play­off his­tory is lit­tered with teams that ad­vanced to or even won Su­per Bowls with .500 records far later in the sea­son than this.

But you have to won­der where it’s go­ing to come from for these Pack­ers. As has been the case go­ing back to 2011, the of­fense has to carry this team. It has to get ahead early and keep the foot on the gas to cover up the chronic de­fen­sive short­com­ings, start­ing with the lack of a pass rush.

But three times in five weeks now — Chicago and Wash­ing­ton were the oth­ers — Rodgers and McCarthy have put in abysmal first halves.

Rodgers’ in­jured left knee hasn’t helped mat­ters, but that’s not the only is­sue, and nei­ther was Sun­day’s ab­sence of re­ceivers Ran­dall Cobb (ham­string) and Geron­imo Al­li­son (con­cus­sion).

“I’ve got to play bet­ter from the start,” Rodgers said. “And I ex­pect to, and I will and we’ve got to give our de­fense, you know, some more help.”

One of Rodgers’ great as­sets is turn­ing bad plays into good ones by break­ing the pocket and find­ing some­body down­field. McCarthy has even built those im­pro­vi­sa­tions into his of­fense.

But off and on over the years it’s been very much a dou­ble-edged sword, be­cause things bog down when Rodgers too often passes up an open re­ceiver early in hopes of find­ing some­thing bet­ter later.

The Lions, in fact, in­vited that by rush­ing only four, giv­ing sec­ond and third ef­forts to chase him down when Rodgers moved around, and cov­er­ing with seven or even some­times eight play­ers.

Twice the Lions strip-sacked Rodgers on ex­tended plays in the first half that led di­rectly to 10 big points and a 24-0 half­time deficit that was just too much to over­come.

“I had a cou­ple real bad ones,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers’ fi­nal num­bers looked good — he passed for 442 yards and a 108.0 rat­ing — but he did not play well. Two lost fum­bles don’t show up in passer rat­ing, but they surely change games just as much as in­ter­cep­tions. And as he has the last few weeks, he missed a cou­ple big throws that could have changed the game, too.

“If I hit Da­vante (Adams) on that first drive he might score on a cross­ing route,” Rodgers said.

Funny enough, even with their poor per­for­mance Sun­day, the Pack­ers could have been in this game if Ma­son Crosby had just made his kicks. Five misses (four field goals, one ex­tra point), well, that was as­tound­ing.

You can’t just add those 13 points to the score and say the Pack­ers would have won, be­cause Detroit would have played dif­fer­ently. If Matthew Stafford had needed an­other score or two, is there good rea­son to think the Lions quar­ter­back wouldn’t have got­ten them against this de­fense?

Still, if Crosby makes his kicks, it’s a dif­fer­ent ball­game.

One of the prob­lems the Pack­ers face go­ing for­ward is that un­like run­ning the ta­ble in ’16, for in­stance, they face a very chal­leng­ing sched­ule. This was a game they needed for the “W” col­umn against a divi­sion ri­val that’s try­ing for a quick re­build with a new coach.

Next week the Pack­ers are for­tu­nate to be catch­ing the Jimmy Garop­polo­less San Fran­cisco 49ers, and then they have a bye to get healthy, which will be a god­send for Rodgers.

But af­ter that they play at the best team in the NFC (Los An­ge­les Rams) and at the NFL’s peren­nial power (Tom Brady’s New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots) in backto-back road games on each coast.

They also travel to one of the tougher venues in the league, Seat­tle, even if the Sea­hawks aren’t the team they were a cou­ple years ago. And they go to Min­nesota and Chicago in the fi­nal six weeks of the sea­son.

In any event, does any­body else feel a sense of déjà vu? The Pack­ers, as they al­ways seem to, strug­gle, scrimp and fight their way through the sea­son, play hor­ri­bly enough at times to look like they’re go­ing nowhere, only to man­age to get into the play­offs be­cause of their quar­ter­back. There they even­tu­ally get bounced when they’ve run out of gas.

Af­ter Sun­day’s de­feat, McCarthy and Rodgers said the things coaches and play­ers al­ways say af­ter de­feats, such as mak­ing corrections, mov­ing on to the next game, and stay­ing in the hunt.

The Pack­ers will do all those things, and they’re surely stay in the hunt in an NFC North where early leader Chicago (3-1) is still highly sus­pect, and fa­vorite Min­nesota is in the same boat as the Pack­ers (2-2-1).

But if you were wait­ing for the Pack­ers to fi­nally have a sea­son where they look like a cham­pi­onship con­tender from start to fin­ish, well, this isn’t it. They’re still just the most pre­dictable team in the NFL.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lions de­fen­sive end Romeo Ok­wara causes Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers to fum­ble on Sun­day. Rodgers fum­bled twice.

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