Packers 4 Downs: Equanimeous St. Brown comes up short on two key plays
Four observations the day after the Packers' 28-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Third-year receiver Equanimeous St. Brown had a tough day in his third game back from a knee injury. Brown was on the field for several key plays in the second half, including back-to-back, third- and fourth-down plays when he had a chance for big catches but failed to come down with the ball. On the first, a third-and-10 from the Vikings’ 37, he was open over the middle but dropped the ball as he hit the ground while trying to make a falling catch. Then on the next play, quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambled and threw him a jump ball in the end zone. St. Brown is 6-feet-5 and got both hands on the ball as he went over safety Harrison Smith, but he couldn’t hang on as Smith slapped his arm. St. Brown did convert a fourth-and-4 later in the game with a catch over the middle.
Three weeks into the NFL season, offensive holding penalties NFL-wide were down 59 percent from 2019, according to ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert. The league wanted it, as retired referee Walt Anderson told the league’s website that officials had been instructed to be less “ticky-tack.” It’s unclear whether the league has changed that edict or the Packers ran into a crew that officiates the game tighter than most, but Sunday the Packers were called for four big holding penalties — two on guard Elgton Jenkins and two on tight end Marcedes Lewis. Three of those contributed to two second-half drives coming up empty. On replay the calls looked legit, but there were games early in the season when it looked like Jenkins, for instance, got away a time or two with what would have been called holding in past seasons. “We knew this was a crew that was higher in terms of how many penalties they threw,” coach Matt LaFleur said, “and we've got to make sure that we can control everything in our power to make sure we don't put ourselves in position to get those penalties. But, certainly there were a lot of penalties today that ultimately cost us points on offense and on defense, and we've got to take a good, hard look at it and learn from them and see what we can do better. Maybe it's coaching certain techniques better, whatever it might be.”
Aaron Rodgers ranked this among his three windiest games at Lambeau Field. He listed it behind only a 24-3 win over the St. Louis Rams in 2011, when the winds ranged from 24 mph to 32 mph, and a game against Detroit. He thought the Detroit game might have been in 2008, but the gamebooks from the Detroit games from ’08 through ’10 listed the winds at 13 mph, 13 mph and 8 mph. So Rodgers might have been thinking of the last game of 2011, when he sat out because the Packers had the best record in the NFC wrapped up. Rodgers called plays for Matt Flynn that day with the winds at 20 mph. Regardless, all game long Sunday the goal posts waved in the wind, and neither team threw the ball downfield much — Rodgers hit on longer throws to Robert Tonyan (45 yards) and Jace Sternberger (27 yards), but Kirk Cousins’ only completion of more than 16 yards was a screen pass that Dalvin Cook turned into a 50-yard touchdown. It was windy enough that when kickers Mason Crosby and Dan Bailey warmed up at the south end zone after halftime, both had a 35-yard kick fall short. “We made some plays in the fourth (quarter) but the wind changed,” Rodgers said. “We took the wind (for) the fourth and ended up kind of going against the wind in back-to-back quarters. That’s the beauty of November football in Lambeau. You never know what’s going to happen weather-wise, but I don’t think we handled it very well.”
LaFleur didn’t provide an update on Crosby’s health — Crosby was listed as questionable for the game and missed two days of practice last week because of calf and back injuries. But Crosby ended up kicking only two extra points, with punter JK Scott handling the kickoff duties. Crosby’s health might have weighed into LaFleur’s decision to go for it on fourth down several times in the second half rather than try a field goal, and to go for two points after a touchdown pulled the Packers within 28-20 in the game’s final three minutes, but LaFleur said that kicking into a strong wind at the north end zone was the bigger factor (the wind shifted ends in the fourth quarter). “I’d say it was definitely more factored towards the wind than anything else,” LaFleur said of the fourth downs. “Just the flow of the game, the feel of the game, just where we were, our inability to get stops on the defensive side, it felt like we had to be aggressive offensively and unfortunate it didn’t work out for us.”