Packers enter bye with plenty to work on

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – If you’re looking for something to do during the Green Bay Packers' bye week, try chewing on this in your free time:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and coach Mike McCarthy talk after some miscommunication in the offense vs. Jacksonville.

The Aaron Rodgers-centric offense ranks 16th in rushing yards and 29th in passing yards and the secondary-loaded defense ranks first in rushing yards allowed and 29th in passing yards allowed.

Three weeks of regular-season football hardly constitute a full sample size, but it’s all anybody – including coach Mike McCarthy and his staff – has to measure heading into the team’s early bye. Regardless of its scientific relevance, there are a few things you can pull out of those statistics if you dig deep enough.

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On offense, McCarthy conceded Monday, the segments of his team devoted to passing are laggards.

“Actually, a conversation Aaron and I had in our meeting was this is the first time in my career here that our run game is ahead of our pass game, and that’s kind of where we are,” McCarthy said. “But we know we need both to be the type of offense that we want to be.

“And it’s no different on defense. Our pass rush has always been outstanding the last couple of years, and we’ve had some challenges with the players being injured and so forth, but our run defense is ahead of our pass defense right now.”

After a 34-27 victory Sunday over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, the Packers improved to 2-1. If their pass offense and pass defense had been a wee bit better in a Week 2 loss to Minnesota, they’d be 3-0 and on top of the NFC North.

When a team has a midseason bye, the coaches typically take some time to do a self-scout, to analyze what they’ve done thus far, assess whether they’ve developed some decipherable tendencies, consider a change in emphasis and decide whether personnel needs to be shaken up.

At this point in the season, McCarthy can only take what little information he has and see if it fits with the vision he had for this team.

“It won’t change what we do but, frankly, it will give us a chance to dive deeper into it as far as more on an individual-player basis as opposed to more of a unit-group setting,” McCarthy said of the bye week. “That’s what we’re going to do.

“We’ve got a full schedule tomorrow of what we’re going to get done. I laid it all out Friday for our group. We went through today as a staff and we’ll do that and we’ll present that to our players when they get back on Monday.”

What McCarthy does know of his offensive group is that it broke out of a passing slump and hit the Lions for 269 drive yards and four touchdowns in the first 28 minutes and 50 seconds of the game. Rodgers completed 12 of 17 passes and posted a 143.1 rating during that time.

At the same time, however, running back Eddie Lacy averaged 7.0 yards per carry, albeit on only six runs.

When McCarthy got worried midway through the third quarter about his defense having been on the field for 25 of the 36 minutes that had been played, he went to Lacy, running him four straight times for 30 yards.

He stuck with Lacy a good portion of the second half and it paid off when the big back became the focus of the Lions' defense and allowed Rodgers to scramble for a first down and complete a nine-yard pass to help run out the final 3:34.

“We were as balanced as you can possibly be as an offense in the number of plays that we had,” McCarthy said. “Would we have liked to have passed the ball more in that game? Yeah, I think so, the way we were playing.”

But, McCarthy seemed to be saying, having a decent running game allowed him a chance to rest his defense and do what was necessary to win the game.

When the team begins preparations for the New York Giants next week, it’s likely the emphasis will be on building off the first-half performance against the Lions. Since the emphasis all training camp was building a running game, it’s time for the passing game to catch up.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers’ run defense looked in trouble with such little depth and so much youth on the defensive line. The four-game suspension to end Mike Pennel added to concerns the defense wasn’t going to be able to stop the run, but it has been quite the opposite.

The Packers are allowing just 1.8 yards per carry and have 18 tackles for loss on running plays this season.

“We’ve had more negative runs than we’ve had in the first three games than we normally have around here,” coordinator Dom Capers said. “We have to keep that element of it going because if you can get a negative run and the down and distance is in your favor, you can do whatever you want on the next down, whether it’s cover or pressure.”

On the other hand, the pass defense has been abysmal. The secondary, loaded with athletic corners and capable safeties, already has given up 15 completions of 20 or more yards.

This was supposed to be the strength of the team, but even with consistent pass rush pressure the secondary has fallen apart without veteran Sam Shields (concussion) around. The second-year triumvirate of Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter has not been good enough.

“We understand that,” McCarthy said. “It’s a focus of ours, and that’s the beauty of this game. We’ll work on that, and it’ll be a big part of our game planning and emphases as we go into the Giants game.”

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