JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As it always is this early in the season, the Green Bay Packers' offense is a work in progress, but the work that remains after the great escape Sunday from EverBank Stadium is pretty substantial.
When you get called for a delay-of-game penalty after a timeout, there’s work to do. When on one third-and-goal play half the unit thinks the call is a pass and the other a run and on another the pass protection goes one direction when it’s supposed to go the other, you have work to do.
Only because enough individuals did what needed to be done in clutch situations did the Packers manage to outscore the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-23, in front of a sun-baked crowd that did not come close to the 63,179 that the home team said paid for tickets.
BOX SCORE: Packers 27, Jaguars 23
“I don’t think we played very well offensively,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Two bad red-zone trips and a really embarrassing last drive there for us on offense. But we won. It’s tough to win in this league; it’s tough to win on the road. We’re 1-0 and going back to Minnesota with a chance to open up that stadium.
“There’s a lot of football left in the season.”
Coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to limit Rodgers to 26 snaps in one exhibition game might explain part of the disorderliness of the offense. Same with the fact that receiver Jordy Nelson was playing his first game in a year after only getting about six practices to prepare.
You can make the excuse that tight end Jared Cook is new to the offense, Ty Montgomery was out for a big portion of his rookie year and Jared Abbrederis only had nine catches last year, a sign this unit has a lot of new parts. You can make the argument that replacing veteran left guard Josh Sitton with Lane Taylor a week before the season didn’t help chemistry.
All of those things are reasonable explanations as to why the Packers started out 1 for 5 on third down, had six fewer minutes in time of possession late in the first half and were averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
But the lack of communication was pretty startling for an offense that has run pretty efficiently with Rodgers in charge.
“Communication is probably the most important thing when you’re playing on the road,” guard T.J. Lang said. “You always have to make sure everyone is on the same page. We had a couple of plays where the heat probably got the better of a couple guys.
“But it’s Week 1. We knew we wouldn’t be perfect. Overall, it was a decent start for us, but we need to be better, especially next week against Minnesota.”
Were it not for Davante Adams’ circus touchdown catch, a couple of big completions Rodgers made on the run, a 28-yard Eddie Lacy run and a crucial pass interference call Cook drew, the outcome might have been different.
The lack of communication between Rodgers and Nelson was evident early on when Rodgers expected Nelson to be in one place along the sideline and he was in another. It took Nelson until the second quarter to even be targeted and on his first two Rodgers couldn’t connect.
It wasn’t until the middle of the second quarter that they started to feel it, connecting three times in four plays, the last a 6-yard touchdown throw Rodgers made into the middle of the end zone after scrambling around.
“We have to start the game a little better,” Rodgers said.
The communication gaffes, however, were the worst in the second half.
On the very first play, Rodgers took a delay-of-game penalty. At the end of that same drive, some 11 plays and 73 yards later, the Packers faced a third and goal at the 7 and couldn’t convert because of a communication issue.
Rodgers threw out to Randall Cobb along the left sideline and Cobb was wrapped up quickly for no gain.
“We were a little screwed up in protection there,” Rodgers said. “We should have been sliding out to the left and we were moving to the right so they ended up with an extra guy on that side, so I had to get it out.”
The ensuing field goal gave the Packers a 24-17 lead. After Jacksonville countered with a field goal of its own, the Packers had a chance to put the game away. After driving to a first and goal at the 6, two Lacy runs set up a third and 2 at the 2.
In came running back James Starks and Rodgers made the play call in a muddle huddle and then barked out a signal as players moved to their positions. With one second on the play clock, he got the snap and handed off to Starks, who ran right into Taylor.
Starks got dumped for no gain and Rodgers was livid, throwing his arms down in disgust when McCarthy sent in the field goal unit.
“Half the guys thought we were running a pass play and the other half thought we were running,” Rodgers said. “I was one of them, that’s why I handed the ball off. That’s disappointing. We have to clean that up.
“We have to get the play call in, get the right personnel in and execute better.”
The most embarrassing moment came after Rodgers called a timeout with 3:30 left in the game and the Packers facing a third and 4 at their own 24. They were trying to run out the clock with a four-point lead and couldn’t get the ball off.
Rodgers was calling for the snap out of the shotgun, but just before center JC Tretter let it go, the quarterback signaled for a timeout with the play clock at zero. Rodgers was not happy and went to the sideline to talk to McCarthy.
After the timeout, there was confusion as to who was supposed to be on the field. Starks had been sent out, but then was called back and somehow the Packers avoided a 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty.
As Rodgers came to the line of scrimmage, Montgomery was lined up at the line but was supposed to be off it. Rodgers and Cobb signaled to Montgomery, who moved, but after going under center, Rodgers just decided to call timeout.
Only you can’t call timeout on consecutive plays and so the Packers were called for a delay of game.
“I think some of us thought we were in a certain personnel group and we went out there to run the play and then James was coming off and we were all screwed up there on the play,” Rodgers said. “Similarly, we had too many of those when guys were leaving the field, coming on the field, nobody knows the play.”
It will be easier to work on those things this week with a 1-0 record. Asked if he was relieved to get the victory, Rodgers was blunt: