The Green Bay Packers keep telling themselves they’re not far away from recapturing their once-prolific passing game.
Only whatever clues they find in midweek film sessions haven’t translated to games.
The offense again looked lost and delirious in Thursday night’s 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears. Second-year receiver Davante Adams had perhaps his roughest game as a pro, while the rest of the receivers struggled to consistently make plays on the perimeter.
Play-calling under associate head coach Tom Clements has been a lightning rod for criticism during the recent skid, but head coach Mike McCarthy championed the need for better execution when reviewing the breakdowns on Friday morning.
“Our passing game’s not where it needs to be,” McCarthy said. “So much is made of scheme. Frankly, I think too much is made of scheme. At the end of the day, it’s about running your routes or defending the route or blocking your guy or getting off the block, and eventually tackling the guy and getting the football. When you have a chance to get your hands on the football, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished with a lower passer rating than the opposition for the fifth consecutive game. While constant pressure helped the Packers’ defense survive in Sunday’s 30-13 win over Minnesota, it couldn’t turnover Jay Cutler or get the necessary stops to win with only 13 points.
As each week passes, the window grows narrower for the Packers to get their 23rd-ranked pass offense back on track. Green Bay may walk into January regardless due to the benign NFC playoff race, but it's uncertain whether the offense would it be able to scrap together the balanced performances necessary for a Super Bowl run.
McCarthy thinks the Packers can.
“The reality is we’re not that far off,” McCarthy said. “It’s the attention and the details. Our issues are technique and discipline in the technique, and quit worrying so much about the plays. Just win the route or win the play called.”
Adams, categorized by Rodgers a “Pro Bowl-caliber player” as recently as last month, has done little to spark the offense since his return from a sprained ankle. He had at least two drops and possibly a third after getting both hands on Rodgers’ final pass intended for Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone.
His play came under fire in the fourth quarter on Thursday after Bears safety Chris Prosinski knocked him off his route, allowing Tracy Porter to pick off Rodgers with 3:23 remaining. The Packers’ defense earned a three-and-out, but Green Bay was forced to use all three of its timeouts to get the ball back.
McCarthy acknowledged after the game that Adams "didn't have a very good day." Moments later, Rodgers took the podium and said he needs to make sure his preparation is "as high as it's ever been" because he hasn't been on the same page with his receivers. The sputtering passing offense is reflected in Rodgers completing only 98-of-186 passes (52.7 percent) over the last four games.
With veteran James Jones also getting shutout on his six targets, the question was posed to McCarthy Friday if the Packers might be better off giving second-year receiver Jeff Janis more snaps. He played only 12 offensive snaps against the Bears, but has had a pair of explosive kickoff returns in back-to-back games.
“I think Jeff has been given some big-play opportunities and he’s converted some,” McCarthy said. “But there’s certain things, each receiver has a skill set that fits a certain part of the offense. So I would look at Davante and Jeff a little differently as far as how you would utilize them and where you play them. But Jeff is definitely getting more opportunities, and he’s earned that.”
Of Rodgers’ 202 passing yards Thursday, a third of the production came through running backs Eddie Lacy (four catches, 34 yards) and James Starks (four catches, 41 yards). A 27-yard screen play to Lacy in the first quarter produced Green Bay’s only touchdown.
Lacy ran the ball well again – 17 carries for 107 yards – but his fourth fumble in five games at the Green Bay 34 cost his team dearly. After holding Chicago to three-and-outs on fourth of its first five series, the Bears used the field position score their first touchdown off a 6-yard pass to tight end Zach Miller.
The Packers’ ground production – Lacy and Starks combined for 144 yards on 24 attempts – makes you wonder if the Packers may be off structuring their offense around the run like it did when Rodgers (broken collarbone) and Cobb (broken leg) missed the second half of the 2013 season with injury.
Regardless of the problems, the Packers have had chances to either win or tie the opponent in the final seconds of their last three losses and still failed to get it done. McCarthy alluded to possible changes to the offense in his post-game comments, but seemed to soften on that stance when asked about it again Friday.
"If you look at the offense, the passing game is not clean," McCarthy said. "We’ve made scheme changes from last year to this year and it’s not productive enough. We’ll take another hard look at it, as we continue to do, and we’ll either emphasize some of the changes we have made or go back to emphasize some of the basic emphases of our offense and do more of that."
It’s easy enough to write it off as a slump when you struggle for a few games, but the offense has been an issue all season.The Packers know if they don’t figure things out soon, they may wind up having to wait until next year for answers.
“Obviously we’re running out of time here,” said right guard T.J. Lang after the game. “We’ve got five games left. So, yeah, it’s something that we’ve got find a way to correct it fast.”
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