Hard for Packers to ignore their offensive mess

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy talks to Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines after Rodgers fumbled the ball near the goal line in the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY – Hanging around the Green Bay Packers last week you would have thought that they were the only sane people on the face of the earth.

Something wrong with their offense?

Not sure what all you’re talking about, many of them said, sometimes with a far more prickly response than that.

Coach Mike McCarthy wondered “why the hell” he had to answer questions about his offense after it had just gained 400 yards against the New York Giants. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers answered indignantly, “It’s going to be where it needs to be when it needs to be” when asked why the screen game wasn’t as good as it had been.

After what could only be characterized as a major step backward in a season where the offense had played only one very good half all season, McCarthy, Rodgers and everyone else had to abandon the attitude and accept that the questions they were being asked were legitimate.

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It didn’t necessarily cause them to admit their offense is a hot mess, but they didn’t have much of a defense for their play after turning the ball over four times, managing just one touchdown and generally playing like they had just faced the 1985 Chicago Bears.

“Well, that was definitely a disappointing performance for us,” McCarthy said. “As I review the game, we have a standard that we have to play to, especially with an excellent opponent in the Dallas Cowboys. We didn’t hit that today.”

McCarthy went on to blame himself for some communication issues that took place with personnel and admit that Rodgers didn’t play his best game, but when he was asked if the offense was broken, he again made it seem that the issues were easily correctable.

Both he and Rodgers seemed to think that not having running back Eddie Lacy at full health, even though Lacy carried seven times for an impressive 45 yards in the first half and 17 times for 65 overall, left them hamstrung. They were without backup James Starks (knee) and forced to used receiver Ty Montgomery in the backfield, but it’s not like they had never been in a tough position before.

“I don’t know if I agree with broken,” McCarthy said. “It’s definitely not clean in some areas. But it’s just like anything, you play to your strengths. Eddie’s situation being up and down was obviously a big part of the game plan going in.

“I thought pass protection was very good today. We’re not as clean in the passing game as we’d like.”

That might be the understatement of the year given the Packers’ long history with Rodgers at quarterback. But since the start of last season, Rodgers has had just five games (out of 23) in which his passer rating has been 100 or higher.

He wound up completing 31 of 42 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown with one interception (90.8 rating), but he fumbled once inside the 5-yard line, threw behind receivers numerous times, missed a wide-open Randall Cobb in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter and planted one into safety Barry Church’s chest on the opening series of the second half.

“There were a couple – the one to Randall would have been nice to hit – and then obviously the fumble down there kills us, and I missed (behind) Richard (Rodgers), “ Rodgers said. “But other than that I felt better.

"I felt my movement was good tonight. I felt the line blocked really well. We’ve got to do a better job of hitting the ones we’re used to hitting.”

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Missing from McCarthy and Rodgers’ comments were an acknowledgement that this has was more than a one-game occurrence.

After five games, the Packers rank 27th in offense, 17th in scoring and 20th in passer rating. Only one team has fewer 20-yard completions (12) and only four teams are worse in yards per pass attempt (6.5).

Coming into this game, the Cowboys ranked 16th in defense and had caused just five turnovers. The Packers were playing against a team that had allowed nine passing touchdowns and had allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a combined 96.0 passer rating.

“That’s a good football team,” Rodgers said. “They’re a good team, but the good thing is it’s all correctable on our side. We haven’t turned the ball over like that in awhile. We’ve got to clean that up.

“We put five balls on the ground and threw a pick as well. Notoriously, our offense has done well because we’ve been efficient but we don’t turn the football over. So, we’ve got to fix that quickly or there’s going to be more nights like tonight.”

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Neither McCarthy nor Rodgers talked about the quarterbacks’ inaccuracy, his misreads or his inability to finish off drives. Jordy Nelson betrayed Rodgers with a fumble and Ty Montgomery coughed one up when the game was all but over, but there were times that Rodgers had open receivers and either missed them or didn’t see them at all.

At this point, all the Packers seem willing to do is admit that there’s a few plays here or there that could make a big difference.

“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the game, he’s a leader of our team, he can make every play there is to be made, and everyone’s got to do their part to help him out, and we’ll be fine,” Nelson said of Rodgers. “We’ve just got to get back to being who we are and taking care of the fundamentals and taking care of the easy stuff, and we’ll get back to where we were.”

The Packers have three days to prepare for their next game, a Lambeau Field meeting Thursday night with the Chicago Bears. That would hardly seem like enough time for McCarthy, Rodgers and the others to do some soul-searching about where this offense has been and where it’s headed.

McCarthy said they’ll learn a lesson from it. Presumably, they learned a lesson from the Giants game and the Vikings game and the Jaguars game, too. So far, it hasn’t helped.

“When you’re going through the journey to a championship season, these are important, important moments,” McCarthy said. “These are probably the most important moments. This is something that’s a growing opportunity. It doesn’t feel like it right now.

“You probably don’t want to hear this, but that’s the reality, that’s the approach, and it’s something we’ll build off of.”

Maybe. But probably not until they admit something is very wrong.

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