Packers' lack of playmakers evident again as offense fizzles in second half
GREEN BAY - When things are good, which is to say when the Green Bay Packers are playing with a lead, they have an offense that operates with Swiss-watch efficiency.
When things are good, they are rolling downhill. Almost unstoppable. They are on schedule, churning out 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drives, a barrage of third-and-shorts. Like the opening possession of Sunday’s showdown against their NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers have scored on all seven opening possessions this season, so they haven’t played from behind much. Things have generally been quite good. Which makes them fortunate.
Because on the rare occasion things go bad, this offense grinds to a halt.
It’s happened twice now this season after the Packers' stunning 28-22 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings, who doubled their season’s win total inside Lambeau Field. Two weeks ago, the Packers sprinted out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter in Tampa Bay. That’s where they stayed, not scoring in the final three quarters, stuck in the mud after a pair of Aaron Rodgers interceptions swung that game.
There they were Sunday, steamrolling the Vikings' defense in the first half. Two drives. Two scores. Their first possession lasted 7 minutes, 59 seconds. Their second was 8 minutes, 54 seconds.
Both found the end zone.
Their first three possessions of the second half went downs, punt, downs. By then, a tied game at halftime had become a two-touchdown deficit.
“I think it was just kind of momentum swings,” tight end Robert Tonyan said. “We didn’t have enough momentum swings and riding momentum, I believe.”
Big plays create momentum. For an offense that entered the day ranked second in the NFL at 32.8 points per game, behind only the Seattle Seahawks, there is a clear lack of big playmakers. Especially in the passing game.
Davante Adams scored all three of the Packers’ touchdowns, part of his seven catches for 53 yards, but the Vikings were determined not to give him anything deep. Each of Adams’ touchdowns came from within 7 yards. His longest catch was 15.
Rodgers pieced together the rest of the Packers' passing game the same way he has done much of this season. Tonyan had five catches for 79 yards, including a 45-yard grab in the second half, though the biggest play was a defensive pass interference on fourth-and-9 that went uncalled after officials picked up the flag.
The incompletion stalled a drive at the Vikings’ 32-yard line with the Packers trailing by two scores.
“I don't even know what to say to that,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “You know, the explanation I got was that they talked about it, they said it wasn't pass interference. So I've got to go back and look at it. It sure looked when I was out there like it was PI, but, again, I haven't seen any replays. So I really don't know.”
Other than Tonyan, the only other Packers players with more than one reception were running back Jamaal Williams (six catches, 27 yards) and tight end Jace Sternberger (three catches, 46 yards). Go down the box score. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had a big opener at Minnesota but has done little since, had one catch for 19 yards. Malik Taylor had one catch for 26. Equanimeous St. Brown had one catch for 12. Darrius Shepherd had one catch for six.
The offense is missing Allen Lazard, who has not played since his six catches for 146 yards and one touchdown at the New Orleans Saints in Week 3. Lazard should help, but it’s not like his return from core muscle surgery would be the same as Houston’s Will Fuller being added to the roster. Fuller, who was at Notre Dame when LaFleur was the Fighting Irish’s quarterbacks coach in 2014, has been a hot name in the rumor mill as Tuesday’s trade deadline approaches.
It’s clear the Packers do not have a No. 2 wide receiver. Behind Adams, their best weapons in the passing game are tight ends and running backs. It’s hard to have an offense explosive enough to come back from two touchdowns, such as the Packers needed to do in Sunday’s second half, when tight ends and running backs comprise your top receiving threats.
“It’s not a bad question,” Rodgers said when asked if the Packers need to add a receiver before the deadline, “but it’s not one I can answer. We’ve had many conversations about this type of things over the years. I truly understand my role. I’m not going to stomp for anybody. Last time I stomped for a player, he ended up going to Buffalo. So I like the guys we have.
“We need more production, more consistency at times, but I like the guys we’ve got.”
Rodgers made it clear that, no, he does not merely like Adams. Rodgers loves Adams, he said. Adams is the rare receiver who can take over games, as he has done at times this season. He had seven touchdowns in just five games, and three games with multiple touchdowns.
A good defense can take away one player, no matter how talented. Something the Packers failed to do against Dalvin Cook on Sunday.
The Packers have beaten up on a lot of bad defenses. They’ve occasionally overcome their shortcomings at receiver, but those shortcomings are a secret to nobody. Least of all defenses tasked with breaking down their film and devising a game plan.
Those defenses know there is no No. 2 wide receiver on this roster. The Packers have until Tuesday to change that.
“I’m only concerned about the guys that we have here,” LaFleur said, “and certainly we’ve got to continue to see what we’re asking our guys to do in terms of different positions to be successful and take some of that load off of Davante. You know, I don’t really care whether it’s a wide receiver, tight end, running back, where that comes from, but we are fortunate we have a legit No. 1 in Tae. A lot of teams can’t say that.
“So we’ve got to make sure that we complement him and set other guys up as well.”