Insider: Thumbs down to offensive line
THE BIG PICTURE
In getting blown out 38-8 by the Cardinals, the Packers (10-5) lost more than just a shot at claiming the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. Green Bay’s sputtering offense was exposed for all to see in the nationally televised drubbing, and it’s clear that what may be good enough to beat the likes of Detroit, Dallas and Oakland isn’t going to fly against the NFL’s elite. The blowout loss also ensured the winner of their showdown against the Vikings next Sunday at Lambeau Field will be the division champion and host a playoff game. If the Packers lose, they will have to settle for a wild-card berth and play on the road in the first round.
Trailing 10-0, the Packers had a golden opportunity to get back in the game when defensive end Mike Daniels intercepted a Carson Palmer screen pass at the Arizona 15. But on third-and-goal from the 10, Aaron Rodgers’ pass for James Jones in the end zone was intercepted by the Cardinals’ Justin Bethel. Arizona took over on its 20 with 57 seconds left before intermission and quickly glided downfield, with Palmer hitting receiver Michael Floyd for 47 yards to set up the seven-yard TD pass to John Brown that put the Cardinals up 17-0 (a crushing 14-point swing).
The Packers’ starting offensive line rarely has been intact this season, and the situation got completely out of hand Sunday. Don Barclay opened the game starting in place of injured left tackle David Bakhtiairi and the results were abysmal in the first half as the line allowed three sacks and committed three costly holding penalties. But it got even worse when right tackle Bryan Bulaga left with an ankle injury in the third quarter. Replacement Josh Walker allowed a strip sack by linebacker Kareem Martin, with defensive tackle Cory Redding recovering Rodgers’ fumble and returning it 36 yards for the TD that made it 31-0. After right guard T.J. Lang exited shortly afterward, forcing Lane Taylor into action, Cardinals defensive end Dwight Freeney beat Barclay for a strip sack and Jerraud Powers returned the fumble seven yards for a touchdown to put Arizona up 38-8. After allowing Rodgers to be sacked eight times, the Packers finally spared him further punishment by bringing in Scott Tolzien (who was sacked once) in the fourth quarter.
Bright spots were difficult to find Sunday, but Rick Lovato achieved his goal of going unnoticed. A season-ending injury to regular long snapper Brett Goode forced the Packers to sign Lovato last week and the rookie did his job seamlessly. Although the course of the game resulted in no field goal or extra-point attempts for kicker MasonCrosby, Lovato got the ball back smoothly to punter Tim Masthay, who was called upon early and often (six punts for 268 yards, 44.7 average) and even caught the Cardinals off guard by running for a first down on a second-quarter fake.
RANTS AND RAVES
RANT: Rodgers wasn’t pleased with the performance of the Packers’ offense against Oakland, but things got even worse Sunday as they failed to score in the first half for only the second time this season. Even after being set up at the Arizona 15 courtesy of Daniels’ interception, Green Bay came away empty when Rodgers was intercepted in the end zone. It was Rodgers’ third red-zone interception this season (and second in as many weeks) after having thrown only five entering 2015. As the game progressed, Rodgers had no chance as his protection completely broke down, but the Packers quarterback wasn’t sharp from the outset in suffering the first 30-point loss of his pro career.
RANT: Even without injured star safety Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals were able to shut down the Packers’ receivers. Davante Adams personified the frustration by making a nice catch for a first down, but then getting hit with a delay-of-game penalty for spiking the ball in celebration (with the Packers trailing 24-0). Later, Adams let what would’ve been a TD pass slip through his fingers on third-and-goal from the 3 and Green Bay failed to score. In the face of a relentless pass rush, Rodgers was forced to settle for screen passes and clicked with Eddie Lacy on a 28-yard TD in the third quarter.
RANT: Green Bay’s ground game never got going in the rain at Oakland, and against the Cardinals, the tandem of Lacy and James Starks found the sledding tough as well. Against a stacked Arizona defense that had no fear of the long pass, Lacy ground out 60 yards on 12 carries (many of them coming after the Packers had fallen way behind) while also battling a rib injury. Starks replaced him to open the second half and committed the sin of fumbling the ball away on the first play, setting up the touchdown that put Arizona ahead 24-0 and extinguished any hope of a comeback.
RANT: Green Bay’s defense faced the daunting task of slowing Cardinals rookie phenom David Johnson, and although he rushed for just 39 yards on nine carries, he did major damage as a pass catcher (three receptions for 88 yards, with linebacker Jake Ryan struggling to keep up in coverage). Without injured cornerback Sam Shields, the Packers also had no answer for Floyd (six catches for 111 yards) and crafty slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald (four receptions for 29 yards and a TD).
DID YOU NOTICE?
» For the first time this season, the Packers failed to win despite recording two or more sacks. Defensive end Mike Pennel picked up his first career sack when he took Palmer down in the first quarter. Mike Neal got a sack later in the same set of downs, but that was it for the day.
» Randall Cobb extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one reception to 55 with a second-quarter catch for five yards against the Cardinals. It’s the fifth-longest streak in Packers history and just three shy of fourth place (James Lofton, 58 from 1979-83).
» Packers safety Morgan Burnett prevented a touchdown by reacting well to close in on the Cardinals’ Johnson at the goal line and break up a second-quarter pass on third-and-goal from the 1. Arizona settled for a field goal.
» James Jones wore his green hoodie again despite playing indoors, but the magic may be wearing off: Jones had five catches but for only 46 yards.
» For the second straight game, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was not credited with a tackle.