Sometimes things aren’t quite as bad as they may seem at first when you put on the film after a disappointing performance or bad loss.
The Green Bay Packers’ disconcerting 38-8 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday wasn’t one of those instances.
“Unfortunately, it looked as bad as it felt during the game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday.
The Packers were beaten in every way imaginable at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals (12-2) nearly quadrupled Green Bay’s passing offense (260 yards to 77) and won the turnover battle handily (4-1) to end the Packers’ already-remote chance of rallying for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Instead, it was another reminder of what a quagmire the offense has become. Receivers aren’t getting open, running backs aren’t holding onto the football, the offensive line is beaten up and Aaron Rodgers is taking far too many hits. If the defense isn’t playing lights out, the Packers are playing catch up.
Still, Green Bay has 10 wins. An 11th victory this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings would give the Packers their fifth consecutive NFC North championship and the right to host a first-round game at Lambeau Field in two weeks.
When the team came together Monday morning to review the film, McCarthy and the coaching staff reviewed the breakdowns that led to the game spiraling out of control – the turnovers, penalties and the consistent inconsistency of the offense.
“I have faith in the football team regardless of what happened (Sunday),” McCarthy said. “I believe in these guys. We’ve been going at this since April and there’s so much invested, everybody I know around the league has invested. We have a lot invested to win this division and that’s why we’re focused on beating the Vikings starting today.”
If the Packers are looking for a blueprint as to how the offense should look, they probably can find one in their 30-13 win in Minnesota last month. It was almost a must-win game after they had dropped three straight games following the bye week, including an 18-16 loss to a Detroit team that had one previous win all season.
The offense scored on four of its first five possessions and struck a solid balance between the run (34 carries) and pass (34 passes) with Eddie Lacy surpassing 100 rushing yards for the first time all season. Defensively, the Packers pummeled Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with six sacks and 11 hits.
McCarthy and the coaching staff reviewed the tape from the Vikings game Monday. What he saw was an offense that was efficient in play style and execution. The mistakes were minimal with zero turnovers and only four penalties for 19 yards. James Jones debuted a hoodie and re-emerged with six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown after having only 89 receiving yards in the previous four games.
“We were very balanced,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “I believe we were somewhere in the 70s as far as total plays. Any time you’re hitting that mark you’re giving yourself more opportunities, so that kind of stood out in how effective we were running the football, which obviously creates more opportunities in the passing game from a play-action standpoint, attacking the middle of the field, downfield throws.”
Instead of being a turning point, it was only a one-week sabbatical from a frustrating year. Four days later, the Packers lost to Chicago 17-13 on Thanksgiving and then needed a 61-yard Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers to avoid another embarrassing loss to the Lions.
McCarthy believes you can scheme till you're blue in the face, but ultimately it’s about giving players the opportunity to make plays on the field. However, that’s also where they’ve run into their biggest problem in a season played without Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson.
Davante Adams has taken a step back in his second season, averaging only 9.3 yards per catch with one touchdown in 12 starts. Randall Cobb’s production also has dipped. His 10.8 yards per catch is the lowest of his career. Accordingly, Aaron Rodgers is on pace for his lowest passer rating (93.7) since his first season as a starter in 2008.
The Packers might be able to get by without a top-10 passing offense if the running game were more consistent. Eddie Lacy has been benched twice this season and James Starks has fumbled four times in December. The Packers’ eight fumbles are tied for sixth-most in the NFL.
Starks, who had been a godsend as a check-down option in the passing game, was benched Sunday after a backbreaking fumble coming out of halftime.
“If you don’t take care of the football, you won’t play,” McCarthy said. “So, I mean, that goes without being said. James has put the ball on the ground consecutive weeks now and that’s got to stop. It obviously affected his reps in the Arizona game.”
The Packers desperately need starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga to pull through their respective ankle injuries after reserves Don Barclay and Josh Walker struggled against the Cardinals, who sacked Rodgers nine times. Rodgers’ 41 sacks this season are his most since 2012.
You can bet Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will be watching what the Packers put on film against the Cardinals. What the master of the Double-A gap blitz will see is an offense that struggled to score only one touchdown on 13 possessions against the Cardinals.
The Packers won’t revert to a team that’s routinely blowing out opponents by halftime anytime soon. The offense has issues that will need to be sorted out this offseason. As the weeks pass, it becomes more apparent a consistent erosion of perimeter weapons is finally taking its toll.
On Sunday, the Packers saw firsthand what the NFL’s most efficient offense looks like. If they want another chance at redemption, it starts with stopping a hungry Vikings’ team that has scored 87 points in its last two victories.
“It’s over now. Shoot, they beat us,” Jones said. “We played the worst we can possibly play and we’re on to Minnesota. We can’t dwell on the past and be worried about the past and go out there and lay another egg on Sunday. We’ve got to put that one behind us.”