Insider: Thumbs down to LaDarius Gunter
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers’ offense is a mess and their defense isn’t much better off. Four turnovers made the game unwinnable even if the offense had found a way to show some consistency, which it didn’t. This is the worst the offense has looked this season and that’s saying a lot. “That’s not the standard of play we have set,” coach Mike McCarthy said. At this point, the Packers should be underdogs at home against Chicago given the way they’re playing. At 3-2, the Packers are two games behind the Minnesota Vikings (5-0) and just a half-game ahead of the Detroit Lions (3-3). This team is in the midst of a home stretch that any team would find heavenly but there’s only one more week left and then the hellish part of their schedule begins. The defense can at least say it was hurt without its top three corners for most of the game and made enough stops to keep the game close. But the offense had Eddie Lacy (ankle) running like a bull and still looked like a rookie free agent was playing quarterback. Three days won’t be enough to fix what ails this team.
McGINN: Total defeat for Packers
DOUGHERTY: A new book on stopping Rodgers
D’AMATO: Packers are in a real fix
After all the screw-ups, missed opportunities and lackluster play, the Packers, down 20-6, were still very much in the game when the offense drove 74 yards to the Dallas 1 with 1 minute, 18 seconds left in the third quarter. On first and goal at the 1-yard line, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with five receivers in the game and no one in the backfield, checked to a quarterback draw. He never even got back to the line of scrimmage and when defensive tackle David Irving hit him at the 4-yard line, Rodgers coughed up the ball. Tackle Bryan Bulaga had a chance to fall on it, but never got full control and Irving appeared to wrestle the ball away in the pile, giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 4. Even though safety Morgan Burnett picked off quarterback Dak Prescott two plays later, the Packers had blown an opportunity to cut the lead to seven. It was one of two times the ball was dislodged from Rodgers’ hands in what has become a far more common occurrence over the past two years.
Lacy gave everything he could on a bum left ankle and with James Starks inactive, receiver Ty Montgomery had to help out. Lacy did a fine job, carrying 17 times for 65 yards, but it was obvious he was wearing down late in the game and needed some relief. Montgomery wasn’t able to do much in the running game (three carries for 6 yards), but he was active in the passing game, especially coming out of the backfield. The Cowboys lost track of him several times and he wound up catching 10 of 12 targeted passes for 98 yards. During the drive that ended with Rodgers fumbling inside the 5, Montgomery caught passes of 12, 15 and 14 yards, the last of which put the ball down on the 1-yard line. “I would have liked to get more of a run game with him there, it just wasn’t quite right,” McCarthy said. “But it was good to get him opportunities. I felt the five wide receiver package with him in the backfield as a wide receiver with the one tight end, we were able to get some good looks and have some production.”
BOX SCORE: Cowboys 30, Packers 16
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A week after he was the best cornerback on the field, LaDarius Gunter folded under the pressure of being the No. 1 guy. Gunter started on the right side again, but when Damarious Randall re-injured his groin with 11 minutes left in the second quarter, Gunter moved to the left side and was given one-on-one assignments on a regular basis. He was not up for the challenge. Late in the second quarter, with the Cowboys up 10-6, receiver Terrance Williams spun Gunter around so badly the Packers corner fell on his face, leaving Williams open for a 42-yard gain. One play later, Prescott went after Gunter again, beating him with a fade for a 20-yard touchdown to Brice Butler. Later, with the Packers trailing, 20-9 in the fourth quarter, Gunter bit on a play-fake on third and 1 and gave up a 35-yard completion to Lucky Whitehead down to the Green Bay 31. Then, on first and goal at the 4, he was faked out badly on Cole Beasley’s pivot route at the goal-line and surrendered an easy touchdown.
RANTS & RAVES
RANT: What was McCarthy thinking at the end of the first half when Dallas took over at the 3-yard line following a punt? There was 1 minute left and the Packers had three timeouts left, but their offense had been so bad that the smart thing would have been to let the Cowboys run out the clock and go into the halftime trailing 10-6. Instead, McCarthy used two of his timeouts. On third and 1 at the 12, the Cowboys gained 26 yards on an end around. Then they gained 42 yards on the Williams reception. And then they finished off the drive with Butler’s touchdown. Instead of going into the half down, 10-6, the Packers went in trailing 17-6.
RANT: What was that defense that Dom Capers went with to start the game? In a clear case of over-thinking things, Capers started out in a 3-4 defense featured Clay Matthews at inside linebacker, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry outside and three safeties with Morgan Burnett playing an inside linebacker position. The defense looked completely out of sorts playing with that personnel and the Cowboys drove 75 yards on eight plays on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead. It didn’t take long for Capers to scrap that look, which is what he should have done in the very beginning.
RANT: Remember that great run defense the Packers had? The one that was ranked No. 1 in the league? The one that hadn’t faced a true No. 1 running back for an entire game? Well, it was completely exposed. The Cowboys’ terrific offensive line carved holes throughout the defense. It took a little while for the Cowboys to wear down the Packers, but in the second half, they romped all over them, gaining 98 yards on 18 carries. In all, the Cowboys gained 191 yards on 33 carries, easily surpassing their season average of 152 yards per game this season and rushing for more yards than the Packers had given up in four games (171). Rookie Ezekiel Elliott accounted for 157 yards on 28 carries.
RAVE: Well, there was that punt by Jake Schum. The Packers’ embattled punter got off a 47-yard punt that took a nice upward bounce at the 2-yard line, allowing long snapper Brett Goode to down the ball there and pin the Cowboys deep in their own territory.
RAVE: Brett Favre looked nice in a yellow jacket. Very fit. The guy probably could have finished out the game if the Packers needed him.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» McCarthy went to five-receiver sets for the first time this season, using Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis in various combinations with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
» End Mike Pennel played in his first game back from a four-game suspension, but it was mostly in short yardage. Cornerback Demetri Goodson, also coming back from suspension, had to play a starting spot after Randall left with a groin injury.
» McCarthy used a double jumbo formation with offensive linemen Jason Spriggs and Don Barclay serving as blocking tight ends in short yardage. Fullback Aaron Ripkowski was stopped short on third and 1 on the only play it was used.
» Rookie Trevor Davis has taken the full-time punt return duties from Micah Hyde. Davis had a 25-yard return, the team’s longest of the season. It increased his season average from 2.0 to 9.7.
BY THE NUMBERS
9 – Turnovers the Packers have committed in their last three games.
1 – Second-half touchdowns Rodgers has thrown this season. His 6-yarder to Cobb in the fourth quarter was his first.
30 – Receiving yards tight end Richard Rodgers has accounted for the past three games.
10 – Receiving touchdowns the defense has allowed this season.
11 – Times the Packers have fumbled this season. They have lost five.