Pete Dougherty and Aaron Nagler look at the road ahead for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after their loss to the Panthers in Carolina.
Every week I’ll share four observations the day after the Green Bay Packers' game. Here they are after the Packers’ 31-24 loss at Carolina on Sunday:
As well as fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams has played, it sure looks to me like Aaron Jones should be the Packers’ No. 1 running back. Williams is a rugged runner, and the Packers clearly consider him to be the better back in the passing game. But Jones is the more dynamic player with the ball in his hands, as he showed again Sunday. Though Williams played a large majority of the snaps, he gained 30 yards on 10 carries against a good Carolina run defense. Jones, on the other hand, didn’t get his first carry until about halfway through the second quarter and broke off a 23-yard run, then a 20-yarder two plays later. He had only three carries (for 47 yards) for the game. This isn’t to diminish the role running backs play in the passing game as protectors and receiving outlets. But Jones is among the Packers’ most dynamic players on offense, and if I were a defensive coordinator I’d rather see Williams out there than him. “We need to get (Jones) more opportunities,” Aaron Rodgers said after the game.
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The Packers’ defensive front had a bad game jumping the snap count. It gave Carolina 10 free yards on a field-goal drive in the second quarter when Clay Matthews and then Kenny Clark were offside on back-to-back plays. In the third quarter, Mike Daniels handed Carolina a first down when he jumped offside on a third-and-four, and the Panthers scored a touchdown four plays later. Vince Biegel picked up a fourth offside penalty when he jumped on a first down late in the third quarter.
Joe Thomas played ahead of Jake Ryan at inside linebacker Sunday — presumably because Ryan (knee) missed one day of practice and was limited the other two. Regardless of the reason, he and Blake Martinez simply couldn’t match up with the combination of Cam Newton’s running, and running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen in the passing game. Newton ran 14 times for 58 yards and converted two third downs with scrambles. McCaffrey converted three third downs on receptions and scored a seven-yard touchdown when either Martinez or Josh Jones left him uncovered on a short route over the middle. And Olsen caught nine passes for 116 yards. Martinez made one play in the passing game when he broke up a third-down pass to McCaffrey late in the second quarter.
Rodgers showed plenty of rust playing in his first game in nine weeks, as his three interceptions attest. It was only the fourth three-interception game of his career and first since 2009. But he also flashed the playmaking that separates him from most quarterbacks in the league. The one that stood out most Sunday was the 33-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. Rodgers scrambled to his right on that play and looked like he’d have to run, but when linebacker Luke Kuechley left his zone to pursue Rodgers, it left Cobb uncovered, and Rodgers at the last instant flipped the ball to Cobb just as defensive end Wes Horton was tackling him from behind. Cobb did the rest.