Green Bay Packers have a thin margin for error on offense and playoff push
GREEN BAY - In a subdued postgame locker room Sunday at Gillette Stadium, quarterback Aaron Rodgers simply said the Green Bay Packers' offense isn’t hitting on all cylinders. Untimely errors, whether it be on his part or elsewhere, have undone that group for the better part of the season.
Veteran wide receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb said Monday that’s how close the league can be, always, from a slip out of a break to a ball that is delivered just inches off target to a turnover or penalty.
But with 54 percent of the team’s salary cap dedicated to an offense that has a two-time Most Valuable Player under center, five other players with at least one Pro Bowl nod and four offensive linemen paid among the top 11 at their respective position, one would think the Packers’ margin shouldn’t be as thin as it is.
Yet through eight games, singular errors have choked the engine more often than not.
“It always comes down to one or two plays, it seems like,” eighth-year tight end Lance Kendricks said. “The margin has been so slim the last couple weeks, against two really good teams.”
Kendricks said traveling to Los Angeles and New England thinned it even more but allowed that “it’s been like that all the games we’ve really lost. It’s kind of been like that. I think that’s just what it’s coming down to. I think we’re still learning how to finish. We’re getting there. It’s just week by week we’re learning who we are and unfortunately, it’s taking longer than we expected. But I think we’re getting there.”
Along those lines, Rodgers’ postgame self-analysis also included the assertion that the Packers need to learn how to win again, especially on the road.
“He’s absolutely right,” Kendricks said. “You have to learn each year based on who you have in the locker room, how to win. This year is a little different and the margin of error just happened to be really slim this year.”
On paper, the Packers can boast the No. 6 offense in the league. But to date, it’s a relatively meaningless counting statistic.
A deeper dive into their production shows how often the offense has stalled out.
Per footballoutsiders.com, the Packers are 13th with an average length of drive of 34.17 yards (the Los Angeles Rams are first at 43.18 yards, for context).
Situational success continues to elude them as well, as they rank 16th in third-down conversion percentage (39.4) and 20th in red-zone touchdown percentage (53.85 percent).
“We’ve got to do a better job in the red zone. Flat out," left tackle David Bakhtiari said Sunday night. "There’s no secret about that. We’ve got to do better job once we get in that area. We’ll take three but at the end of the day, we’ve got to strike and take seven.
In fairness, the offense hasn't always had it easy in terms of revving up: Rodgers et al. have started their possessions, on average, at their own 26.96-yard line and under a deficit of 2.56 points (both 10th-worst in the NFL).
Yet the Packers only average 5.95 plays per drive (No. 19) and their drive success rate – which is the percentage of a series that results in a first down or touchdown – is tied for 18th.
Such middling numbers have resulted in uneven outputs on the scoreboard. The Packers have scored 30 points just once, have scored 17 twice and average 24 points per game – 14th in the league.
As such, margins are shrinking on a broader level as well.
The Packers are third in the NFC North at 3-4-1, two games behind Minnesota and Chicago in the win column. They are on the outside looking in regarding the playoffs, sitting in the 10th spot. They are 2-3-1 in the conference but have lost the head-to-head tiebreaker with Washington.
“The margin of error grows smaller whenever you’re losing games and you get later into the season,” Cobb said. “Your margin of error to try and make the playoffs becomes smaller.”
Teams ahead of them for a wild-card berth include Seattle (4-4), Atlanta (4-4) and Minnesota (5-3-1), all of whom remain on the Packers’ schedule.
“We need that game,” Adams said late Sunday night. “Next week (against Miami), we need it. We’re running out of games to keep saying we need that game, but we definitely need it at this point.”
Urgency is building, but those who have gone through a playoff push feel there is enough room left in that margin beginning Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“Definitely. Definitely,” Kendricks said. “It’ll be nice to have a home game and kind of get out there and be comfortable at home and hopefully get a win and just try to build off of what we ... I mean we did really good things in this past game in the first three quarters, so we just gotta build off that and just kind of know we can play at that level, we just have to consistently do it for four quarters.”