Rodgers, Packers 'trying to do too much'
It's the question that has been on everyone's mind during the Green Bay Packers' recent three-game losing streak, but no one can quite put a finger on.
What exactly is wrong with Aaron Rodgers?
It's not that the reigning NFL MVP's play has nose-dived entirely. He still is making throws that few can, such as his 20-yard pass to tight end Justin Perillo in traffic on third-and-15 Sunday against Detroit and another 20-yard completion thrown across his body to Randall Cobb on third-and-12.
However, Rodgers has been more erratic than usual. For the past month, he has missed throws he so often makes without a moment's hesitation. He has completed only 55 percent of his passes in the Packers' last two losses, with a bulk of his 702 passing yards coming while his team was playing from behind.
Rodgers' supporting cast hasn't provided much relief. Receivers have struggled to get open and dropped too many passes. The Packers' inability to run the ball has led to Rodgers throwing at a record-setting pace (34.8 attempts per game).
"If Aaron's really guilty of anything, he's trying to do too much," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "And that's something that I think you would expect from your leader and a great quarterback that's done it at such a high level."
In the aftermath of a disheartening 18-16 loss to the Lions, coaches and players reiterated the importance of needing all 11 guys to step up, but the Packers' 21st-ranked offense remains a shell of its former self with Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson (torn ACL) out for the season and running back Eddie Lacy mired in a first-half slump.
For all the pomp and circumstance, the Packers ultimately will go as far as Rodgers takes them. Ten months ago, he had Green Bay five minutes away from the franchise's sixth Super Bowl appearance despite playing through a torn calf muscle that restricted him to the pocket.
Rodgers was surgical in his command during that late stretch. He completed 91-of-131 passes in the four games he played through the injury (69.5 percent), including a near-perfect performance in a winner-take-all battle with the Lions for the NFC North title last December.
It was the final notch in an MVP season.
"He's probably the, if not the most, one of the most accurate throwers in the NFL of all time. But, he is human, he misses some passes," offensive play-caller Tom Clements said. "I'm sure if you ask him there's some throws he'd like to have back; as I said, he made some great passes in that game and he missed some. So it's a matter of trying to make all the passes that you can on a consistent basis."
Rodgers says he's not injured, but something is clearly different. Two weeks ago, he threw for a career-low 77 yards against Denver. After last week's 37-29 loss to Carolina, Rodgers admitted afterward that something "scared" him when he decided against throwing to an open Cobb on a late goal-line situation.
Instead, he held onto the ball and then was pressured into a game-ending interception.
He was more veiled in his assessment after Sunday's loss, saying he'll have "look at the film" before dissecting the breakdowns. Clements, who has coached Rodgers since 2006, made his opinion clear Monday that the quarterback isn't struggling.
"No, he's not in a funk," Clements said. "He made a lot of very good passes in that game. He missed some passes. We had some guys who made some great blocks and then missed some blocks; we had some guys who made some catches and missed some catches. That's kind of the theme."
The whole point of McCarthy's early emphasis on gaining a fast start was to put the Packers in front of the pack in the NFC playoff race. They did that with a 6-0 start, but now find themselves in their first three-game losing streak since Rodgers debuted as Green Bay's starting quarterback in 2008.
McCarthy says a turnaround can be accomplished through emphasizing fundamentals and trusting the people around each other. He stands firm in his belief that the answer to what ails the Packers' offense can be found with the players in the Packers' locker room.
That will be tested during an upcoming stretch of three division games in a span of 12 days starting this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings (7-2).
It's not surprising Green Bay is one game behind Minnesota in the NFC North. After all, the Packers have played from behind in capturing each of their last division championships. What's unsettling is the circumstances that have led to this point. Back-to-back losses to Denver and Carolina could be explained, but Sunday's letdown against the Lions was almost unfathomable considering Detroit hadn't tasted victory in Wisconsin in 24 years.
Instead of capitalizing, the Packers heard a chorus of boos as the soundtrack to yet another abysmal performance.
"Yeah, it's frustrating, but nothing is going to change until we change it. It's on us," receiver Randall Cobb said. "We all believe in each other. We all know what we're capable of. It's very frustrating that we're not performing at our standard. Nothing is going to change until we change the story."
Each week the issues seem to become more pronounced on what historically has been one of the league's most potent offenses that has routinely led the NFL in scoring and finished in the top 10 in total yards. This year, not a single receiver, running back or tight end is on pace for 1,000 yards.
That doesn't mean everything. A similar script played out for the Packers in 2012 and Rodgers' brilliance helped lift the offense through the dry spells. Rodgers and the Packers remain in firm control of the direction their season is headed, but a few more losses could quickly change that.
"We're all just kind of, on offense, frankly, we're kind of chasing the game," McCarthy said. "We're chasing the game, and you don't chase the game of football. You let the game come to you, and you attack it and you take advantage of the opportunities that are presented. We've got to quit chasing our tail."
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