Silverstein: Packers lose their grip on offense

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers tight end Lance Kendricks (84) drops a long pass against Washington Sunday, September 23, 2018 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.

LANDOVER, Md. - On a wet and soggy day typical of the kind of summer the Washington, D.C., area has experienced this year, the Green Bay Packers acted as though they were from Southern California.

Their offense, in particular, had slippery fingers.

The list of those who dropped the ball Sunday at FedExField included receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Lance Kendricks, tackle Jason Spriggs, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy.

On the same day the Minnesota Vikings handed the Packers (1-1-1) a great opportunity to take an early lead in the NFC North, they let Washington (2-1) dunk-tank them, 31-17, in front of a half-to-three-quarters-filled stadium, a third of which was filled by Packers fans.

Washington’s homefield advantage is so bad they refused to list how many people were in attendance on the final stats sheet, and yet the Packers were not able to take over the place. They could not handle the weather conditions or the football.

“They have a really good defense, Washington,” Rodgers said. “I missed a couple of throws I usually hit. We dropped a couple ones, chances for big plays. It kind of hurt us. Didn’t get a lot going most of the game.

“Gotta give them credit, but we left a lot of offense out there.”

Most of it right on the stadium’s grass field.

Rodgers, playing with a brace on his sprained left knee again, struggled with accuracy early on, which wasn’t a surprise given his only practice was in a modified workout on Saturday.

But his teammates never picked him up.

Other than receiver Geronimo Allison’s 64-yard touchdown catch that cut Washington’s lead to 21-10 late in the second quarter, Rodgers’ receivers were neither getting open very often nor holding onto the ball consistently.

Cobb led the slippery fingers parade with two of the team’s four drops and a fumble. One of his drops came on third down and one on fourth down; both drives had already been established with an earlier first down and were starting to gain momentum.

His fumble came with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left in the game and the Packers needing a touchdown to make it a four-point game.

“My performance, I didn’t give us an opportunity to win,” Cobb said. “Third- down drop on the first drive. Fourth-down drop. Fumble. I played terrible, and I didn’t give us the opportunity to win.”

Asked how much the weather played a factor in his performance, Cobb dismissed it entirely.

“That has nothing to do with it,” he said. “We played in these conditions before. It’s on me.”

It really wasn’t entirely on Cobb if you consider how many other things could have gone right if the Packers wouldn’t have let the weather affect them.

Before Cobb’s fumble, tight end Lance Kendricks had a chance to make it a four-point game. On third and 10 at the Packers 16 with 13:27 left in the game, Kendricks took his route up the sideline after Rodgers began to scramble and found himself wide open.

Rodgers threw a perfect pass. Kendricks put up both hands in front of his chest, took the ball in and then dropped it as he fell to the ground. If he had stretched his hands out like most receivers do, he might have had an easier time catching it, but he wasn’t wrong trying to spear it before it got to his body.

“In hindsight, maybe I should have switched my hands around,” said Kendricks, who after the drop sat on the bench with his head in his hands. “I think the impact of hitting the ground, I kind of lost track of the ball. I hit the ground hard.

“If I could go back and replay it 1,000 times, I’d try to catch it differently.”

Kendricks said the ball was wet, but he couldn’t use that as an excuse.

“I have to catch it, end of the day,” he said. “It was just a tough play.”

It wasn’t the only tough play of the day and Rodgers was on the throwing end of several them.

He struggled to put the ball on the money in the early going, especially on a third and 3 to Davante Adams on the second drive of the game. Rodgers had an easy throw to Adams on a slant, but he threw it behind him and while Adams got two hands on it and could have made a tough catch, Rodgers made it extremely hard on him.

Rodgers completed 61.4% of his passes (27 of 44), but many of those completions came in the second half when McCarthy encouraged Rodgers to throw more check-downs and take what Washington was giving him.

Seeing his team struggle in the passing game, McCarthy could have focused more on the rushing attack, especially after Aaron Jones made his first appearance late in the first quarter and again after Adams’ 3-yard touchdown catch had cut the lead to 28-17.

On his first two carries of the season following a two-game suspension, Jones busted off runs of 10 and 8 yards. He would have carried again, but Rodgers unwisely went for the pass on a run-pass option and found that Adams hadn’t anticipated it. He ran 3 yards for the first down, but Jones might have gotten much more.

From that point, McCarthy and Rodgers threw four straight times and wound up kicking a field goal.

In the first half, the trio of Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery rushed 11 times for 64 yards (5.8 average). In the second half, they carried just four times, once on the 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half.

Jones had a 17-yard run on first down on the next series and a 1-yard run after that and that was pretty much it for the run game.

“All we can do is wait until our name is called,” said Williams, who had five carries for 29 yards and two catches for 16. “I thought we did a great job of trying to be spark plugs for the drives and just trying to keep it going.

“We just have to focus on executing and finishing plays.”

McCarthy’s unwillingness to run the ball was compounded by injuries on the offensive line that forced right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and Justin McCray (shoulder) to exit the game. Spriggs had two costly penalties that slowed down drives and guards Lane Taylor and Lucas Patrick had holding penalties that made for a long night offensively.

Maybe the Packers weren’t as bad as the Vikings were at home Sunday against Buffalo but playing only a little bit better than your main competition isn’t much consolation. McCarthy and Rodgers must figure out what Rodgers can do while hurt and the players around him have to perform in every condition.

“Tough conditions,” Rodgers said. “I mean, not super tough. But we did have some steady rain for a lot of the game that makes the ball a bit slicker.

“It’s a little hard to throw, a little harder to catch. We hold ourselves to a high standard. I gotta play better and we have to make the plays when we have opportunities.”


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