Offense stumbles as Packers fall flat at Detroit
DETROIT — In many ways, Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions was like watching archive footage of the Green Bay Packers' offense circa 2012.
Only this time, there wasn't the same embarrassment of riches on the perimeter to rescue a run game that couldn't make the Lions pay for consistently keeping two safeties back.
Eddie Lacy and the rest of the Packers' backfield combined for only 76 yards on 22 carries, and the ground game never fully rebounded from two critical first-half blunders: an early Lacy fumble returned for a touchdown; and a safety.
Detroit knew how dangerous the combination of Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson could be in the air, so it shaded its safeties on the outside of the back end to pressure the Packers to produce out of the backfield.
Ndamukong Suh and the rest of Detroit's deep defensive front did the rest.
A year after jumping from 20th to seventh in total rushing, even Lacy has been perplexed by the early-season struggles. The NFL's reigning offensive rookie of the year is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry after gaining only 36 yards on 11 carries Sunday.
"It's a completely new year, we just have to figure out better ways to run the ball," Lacy said. "I don't know if I have to be more patient or speed things up, but one way or another, I'm responsible for the run game."
Like last week's 31-24 win over the New York Jets, the offense coughed up the ball on its first possession with Lions defensive lineman Nick Fairley forcing Lacy's first fumble in 325 carries (including playoffs) on his second attempt of the game.
Although safety Don Carey ran the ball back for a 40-yard touchdown, the Packers were determined to stick with the run game and incorporate James Starks and DuJuan Harris more than last week, when Rodgers threw 30 passes in the first 30 minutes.
The Packers forged their best series of the day with Starks in the backfield, answering the Lions' score with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless to tie the game 7-7 with 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
They seemed to catch a break on the next series when Davon House picked off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to give the offense the ball at its 1-yard line after a booth review deemed it wasn't a touchback.
The Packers wanted to run Lacy to the right side, but Lions defensive end Jason Jones blew up tight end Richard Rodgers' block, and right guard T.J. Lang wasn't able to close on an inside blitz from linebacker DeAndre Levy.
Levy and Jones converged on Lacy 2 yards deep in the end zone for the safety.
"Offensively, there's no excuse for the turnovers," Lang said. "It's something that it just kills the momentum for your team. With that being said, there are plenty of opportunities in that game for us to recapture the lead. We just couldn't get anything going, couldn't convert any third downs and struggled running the ball a little bit."
Entering Sunday's game, the Packers knew teams eventually were going to start rolling coverages in the direction of Nelson, who led the NFL through the first two weeks with 292 receiving yards on 30 targets.
That meant new weapons were going to have to emerge, in the backfield and on the perimeter. They had a few spurts of momentum, but not enough to sustain drives or get their no-huddle offense into rhythm.
Quarless noticed the Lions' depleted secondary, which was playing without three cornerbacks and safety James Ihedigbo, cheating toward the perimeter. It left the middle of the field open, but the running backs couldn't penetrate into the second level and the receivers couldn't consistently find openings.
Overall, something was noticeably off.
"I think it starts with practice," said Quarless, who had four catches for 43 yards. "The Jets week, there were a lot of high-tempo practices and really pushing the ball. We kind of, I guess, slacked off a little bit this week, and it shows."
The Packers bid farewell to veteran receiver James Jones and an injured Jermichael Finley this offseason with the expectation Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davante Adams could make up the difference.
After pulling down only three catches for 29 yards, Cobb called his performance "embarrassing." He had a chance at a potential explosive catch on the Packers' first series, but dropped a pass down the right sideline on third-and-3.
Like Lacy after his fumble, Cobb remained on the sideline during the next series.
"It was kind of embarrassing as an offense. Embarrassing in myself, the way I played," Cobb said. "I have to be better. I have to do more. I have to give this team more. I have to look myself in the mirror first and see what I can do to help this team out."
The Packers forced Stafford into three turnovers to win that category, but converted only 4 of 10 third downs compared to the Lions' 11 of 18. It all made for a 12-point loss in front of a raucous 62,418 at Ford Field feel much more decisive.
The Packers believe they have enough weapons, but the path to a more consistent offense starts with reestablishing the run like they did last season when Lacy and Starks combined for 1,671 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Prior to last season, the Packers went two full seasons without a running back gaining more than 100 yards in a single game. A change in the blocking scheme and the insertion of Lacy paved the way for the backfield's best showing in a decade.
The Packers' ground attack will look to get back on course next week at Soldier Field against a Chicago Bears defense that's allowing 160 rushing yards per game.
"I think we have enough, I do," Rodgers said when asked if he has enough offensive weapons. "We're going to have to get some balance. We're going to have to run the football a little more effectively to set up some of the play-action stuff. And we're going to have to do a better job of adjusting some of our route concepts.
"If teams are going to play us two-high and go back to some of the ways they did (after) 2011, really rolling coverage to one receiver, we're going to have to run the ball more effectively. We haven't done it the first three games."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.