Packers need to get Brett Hundley in sync with his receivers
GREEN BAY - Over the next seven days, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and the rest of his offensive staff will break down every step Brett Hundley took Sunday at Lambeau Field, hoping to keep recalibrating the offense until it’s back on course.
It was obvious in a 26-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints that six days of preparation were not enough to transition from Aaron Rodgers to Hundley and resetting the gears to make the operation run on time probably will take longer than anyone thought.
In Hundley’s first NFL start, the Packers managed 79 net passing yards. That was their fewest since a 38-8 loss at Arizona on Dec. 27, 2015, a game in which Rodgers was sacked nine times for minus-78 yards. Hundley’s longest completion of the day against the Saints was 14 yards.
“I think we've got to make sure we're focused on the facts here,” McCarthy said Monday. “I get what the numbers say, but the offense had 50 plays, the defense had 75. When you're going to break down Brett's snaps, you have to look at opportunities, and you look at the opportunities, you look at the execution of those opportunities.
“He will do better, because the majority of his issues were more in the area of time clock and timing.”
Under Rodgers, the Packers were averaging 63 plays a game, which means Hundley got about 13 fewer chances to run the offense than is the norm. Given he completed 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards with an interception, it’s hard to imagine him doing much of anything with those 13 extra snaps.
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But McCarthy felt after watching tape of the game that more plays would have translated into more opportunities for Hundley to get in rhythm with his receivers and make things happen with his legs (he scrambled three times for 44 yards and a touchdown).
The big question is, if he couldn’t find a connection with veterans such as Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Martellus Bennett and Randall Cobb for most of the game, why would he all of a sudden find it?
“You look at the way the game played itself out, we had some opportunities where if we kept it in a manageable down and distance and we convert a couple of short-yardage situations, now we’ve got more opportunities, we have more plays,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “And I think that helps the situation. When we have more plays, it gives our guys more opportunities to be productive.”
As the Packers head into their bye week, McCarthy and his staff have to figure out how they can get Hundley in sync with those receivers.
On a day when rookie running back Aaron Jones (17 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown) did everything he could to take pressure off Hundley, the passing game was a flop.
“We had a great meeting this morning, went through everything and we'll be better next time,” McCarthy said. “The time clock things are somewhat understandable. We had some protection errors that were unfortunate for him on certain particular plays.
“But he wasn't given a lot of opportunities and we were 4-for-11 on third down, so we get two or three more third downs, defense gets off the field, maybe we're having a different story that we're talking about right now.”
Maybe, maybe not.
Against Minnesota, when Hundley came in cold off the bench to replace the injured Rodgers, he had better timing with his receivers than he did against the Saints.
In that game, Nelson had five catches for 60 yards, Adams had five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, Bennett had one catch for 14 yards and Cobb had three catches for 28 yards with Hundley under center.
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Against the Saints, Nelson had one catch for 13, Adams had two for 12, Bennett had two for 17 and Cobb had two for 15. Jones led all players with five targeted passes — most of them botched screens — and finished with three catches for 7 yards.
“We need to be more creative and make sure we’re giving him the things that he needs,” McCarthy said. “You have to be in tune with what his training is and what he’s done in fitting the time clock with the perimeter because at the end of the day when you call a football game you have to get the ball to your playmakers. And we didn’t get that done (Sunday).
“Jordy Nelson, Davante, Marty, Randall Cobb, those guys have got to touch the ball. We didn’t get that done. Now, how many times have we run for 180-plus yards? Not very often. You’re supposed to win those games. So, we have a lot to build off of.”
Getting Hundley settled behind a healthy offensive line will be a key focus once the team returns from its bye next Tuesday. Guard Lane Taylor (ankle) was the only one missing Sunday and if he returns for the Detroit Lions game Nov. 6, it will mark only the second time the Packers have had their starting offensive line together this season.
The five have yet to make it through an entire game together.
Having four of those guys back Sunday should have helped some. McCarthy said he did not think he got conservative with his play-calling to keep Hundley from making critical errors but rather went with the flow of the game, which favored running the ball more.
“I mean, define what’s conservative,” McCarthy said. “Is it a run-pass stat? We had the ball 50 plays, so if you look at that part of the evaluation, it (pass attempts) is reduced.
“You look at how many drop-back passes he had, there’s where the majority of our time clock things were. We weren’t very clean there. The action passing game, the footwork was perfect and we had protection issues on two of them. You have to take in all the information.”
McCarthy said he and his staff will do their usual midseason self-scout as well as look for ways for Hundley to be more comfortable throwing the ball. He said he made it clear to his young quarterback that fan and media criticism are part of the job, but he can’t feel that he must do more than what is being asked of him.
“You can’t let him feel the weight of the world,” McCarthy said. “It’s part of playing the position, I get that. (He) just (has to) stay in tune with what he’s being asked to do.”