Pass rush again among problem spots
The Green Bay Packers are 2-2-1 after five games. It’s been a frustrating and often disappointing start for a team many pegged as a Super Bowl contender.
The season still has 11 games remaining, beginning next Monday with a visit from the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers can get their season back on track with a win going into the bye week, but all the issues facing Mike McCarthy’s team won’t be solved in the next two weeks.
Here are five things the Packers must be worried about:
1. Lack of pass rush
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has devised ways of generating pressure with clever and well-timed blitzes, especially on third down, but the Packers still lack the kind of consistent passrush ability all great defenses require. Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Reggie Gilbert, the team’s top three edge rushers, have combined for 31⁄ sacks in five 2 games. Kyler Fackrell took advantage of a favorable situation and tallied three sacks in one quarter against the Buffalo Bills, but he’s been shutout over the other 20 quarters. The interior rush from Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark has been solid but far from dominant, and Muhammad Wilkerson is on injured reserve. It’s difficult to see the Packers playing championship-level defense against the best in the NFC without a better, more disruptive pass rush, and it’s even more difficult to see how the Packers’ pass rush gets significantly better with the current personnel over the final 11 games. The edge rush needs a serious infusion of talent this coming off-season. Can Pettine find additional ways to coax more disruption out of what he already has?
2. Unfinished offense
The Packers have unrealized potential but lack an identity on offense. Aaron Rodgers is fighting through a linger- ing left knee injury and hasn’t been sharp in any game, the run game has been sporadic and unpredictable due to inconsistent opportunities, receivers have struggled to catch the football, and penalties, missed opportunities and avoidable mistakes have killed too many drives. Execution on a play-byplay basis remains a primary culprit for the struggles. The Packers are also converting only 50 percent of red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, highlighting the group’s problems with situational football. Are the Packers simply a step or two away from putting it all together, or are the frustrating trends likely to be season-long problems? Through five games, the offense ranks in the bottom half of the NFL at 23.0 points per game. That’s unacceptable for a team with a top quarterback and an offensive-minded head coach, and it’s unnervingly reminiscent of the Packers’ struggles in 2015.
3. Handling opposing veteran QBs
This worry ties into the issues with the Packers’ pass rush. Without an ability to consistently disrupt the pocket and affect the quarterback, Pettine’s defense has struggled to handle veteran passers. Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford combined to throw eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions i n games against t he Packers. All three finished with a passer rating over 100.0. The Packers are 0-2-1 in those games. Green Bay’s two wins came against Mitchell Trubisky, who was making his 13th career start, and rookie Josh Allen, who was making his third career start. It’s simple for a veteran defensive coordinator to trick a young quarterback i nto holding the football and making mistakes. It’s much more difficult to do those things against an experienced veteran, especially without a front four capable of ap- plying consistent pressure. The Packers will play the likes of Jared Goff, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan and face Cousins and Stafford for a second time over the final 11 games. The defense must find better answers to veteran quarterbacks or risk fading from relevancy.
4. Undisciplined team
After five games, the Packers have the third-most penalties (43) and second-most penalty yards (413) in the NFL. McCarthy’s team also has eight turnovers, including six lost fumbles, and both the offense and defense have struggled with fundamental aspects such as catching the football and completing tackles. The Packers have dug big holes in three out of five games, with deficits of 17-0, 28-10 and 24-0 at halftime, and are 0-2 on the road. It’s all the reflection of an undisciplined, sloppy football team. Great teams either avoid unforced mistakes or are good enough to overcome them. The Packers can’t claim either through five games. McCarthy needs to repair major foundational cracks in his football team.
5. Safety play
The inconsistency of the safety position continues to plague the Packers defense. While Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has three interceptions in five games, he’s routinely out of position – including on both of Matthew Stafford’s touchdown passes Sunday in Detroit – and erratic as a tackler, two fatal flaws at his position. The former first-round pick lacks the instincts and physicality of an elite safety. Kentrell Brice, the other starter, is similarly flawed, with poor ball-tracking ability and even more inconsistency as a tackler. Josh Jones, last year’s second-round pick, hasn’t even competed for playing time. The safety position is so important to playing defense in today’s NFL, and the Packers have lacked reliability at both spots to start 2018. Good offenses on the schedule will find ways to exploit the weakness over the final 11 games.
Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers have yet to get the offense humming consistently. The Packers are averaging 23 points a game and are misfiring in the red zone.