Packers 4 Downs: Receivers' dropped passes a glaring concern
Four observations the day after the Packers' 21-13 win over the Bears on Sunday:
The Packers aren’t overloaded with receiving talent, but one thing they won’t be able to weather against a good team in the playoffs is receivers not making the plays that are there. On Sunday, they had two big drops early that could have changed the game. The first was on the Packers' first play of the day, when Aaron Rodgers threw a strike to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep post pattern for what should have been at least a 55-yard play and probably a 70-yard touchdown. Valdes-Scantling had the speed to get behind the defense and run under the pass, but he didn’t track the ball well and short-armed the perfect throw. The other was later that series, when Geronimo Allison dropped a crossing route on a third-and-5 that ended a drive near midfield. The possession ended with a punt rather than early points. Allison had two catches (for 19 yards) on the day, and Valdes-Scantling’s drop was his lone target. Those are the kinds of plays they have to make for the Packers to win at Minnesota next week.
Offensive coordinators should know by now not to throw quick receiver screens to Jaire Alexander’s side of the field. Alexander has defended those plays consistently well since his first game as a rookie last year, because he’s explosive getting to the ball and physical and aggressive taking on any blocks. He made two stops on receiver screens Sunday against the Bears. On the first, the Bears threw a quick screen to receiver Riley Ridley on a third-and-16 in the first quarter, and Alexander blew up receiver Anthony Miller’s block and dropped Ridley for a three-yard loss. On the other, in the third quarter, the Bears threw a wide screen to Miller, but Alexander came up fast and tackled him for only a one-yard gain.
The Packers ran a few snaps of no-huddle offense as a change-of-pace in the first half, with modest success. On one drive they got two first downs out of it before going back to their huddle after the changeover to the second quarter. Then later in the quarter, out of a two-tight-end set, they got one first down. Coach Matt LaFleur has hardly used the no-huddle in his rookie season but said he tried it Sunday in part to tire out Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who was back after missing 10 weeks because of an elbow injury. “Wanted to kind of gas him out a little bit,” LaFleur said.
The Packers botched the end of the first half when they called a timeout to prevent a 10-second run-off with only nine seconds left, to only have Rodgers inexplicably throw the ball short over the middle of the field on the fourth-down play. The pass was incomplete, which gave the Bears a shot at a Hail Mary throw from their own 41 on the final play of the half. But even if completed, the Packers had no timeouts left, so they wouldn’t have had time to get off a field-goal attempt. “I felt good about the play call,” Rodgers said. “We were taking a shot down the field, but based on the after-the-snap movement, really didn’t have a great chance there. Probably should have (audibled) it to a Hail Mary and given us a better chance.”