Packers 4 Downs: Jimmy Graham too slow to help overcome big deficit

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Four observations the day after the Packers' 26-11 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday:

First down

One thing to wonder is why Packers coach Matt LaFleur played tight end Jimmy Graham so much in the fourth quarter as his team was trying to come back from a huge deficit and time was a big factor. When the Packers were down three scores with 10½ minutes left they needed points fast. Graham just doesn’t have the speed anymore to make plays down the field or turn checkdowns and underneath throws into bigger gains. So why not go with four wide receivers, instead of three and a tight end? LaFleur probably wanted a tight end on the field in part to help block defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who at times dominated the game. But there’s a good argument LaFleur needed a faster receiver on the field even more.

Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham is tackled by Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Desmond King during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Second down

One tactic LaFleur didn’t employ to jump-start his struggling offense was going up-tempo, at least not until he had to go hurry-up because he was down three scores in the fourth quarter. After having only three series and gaining but 50 yards total offense in the first half, I thought he might pick up the tempo in the second half and either go no-huddle or run a lot of calls where his offense breaks the huddle, rushes to the line and snaps the ball quickly. But he didn’t, other than running a couple snaps of no-huddle in the third quarter. Aaron Rodgers said he and LaFleur never really discussed going up-tempo, in part because they’d run so few plays. “We still had a lot of stuff that we wanted to get to — the stuff that we worked on all week,” Rodgers said.

Third down

The Packers’ abysmal return game improved a little Sunday, at least on kickoffs, with Tremon Smith promoted to the active roster late last week. The Chargers, like other recent Packers opponents, kicked short to force the return, but Smith averaged 24.6 yards on five returns, and the Packers started all but one of those drives from their 25 or beyond. Smith had never returned punts in his 18 previous NFL games but handled those duties Sunday and was dropped for a zero-yard return on his only chance.

Fourth down

Davante Adams had a nondescript day after missing four games because of a sprained toe, not that LaFleur and Rodgers didn’t try to get him the ball. Rodgers targeted Adams 11 times, and though the receiver had seven catches, they were all short throws for a total of 41 yards (5.9-yard average). Adams also had a drop along the sidelines in the fourth quarter. LaFleur clearly was monitoring Adams’ snaps, but he still led all receivers with 45 snaps out of 54 total. Assuming he came out of the game no worse for the wear, he presumably will play a little more this week against Carolina, then will have a bye week to rest for the season’s stretch drive.

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