Packers won't change their offense despite rash of communication errors

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY – On the one hand, Green Bay Packers offensive coaches aren’t in the mood to change what they’re doing offensively to lessen the number of mental errors being committed by those catching passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“They're not like that complicated,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said Thursday. “It's pretty basic stuff. That’s the reason why it's so frustrating is we should be on the same page. You’ve just got to make sure we're all in the same boat of what's going on.”

On the other hand, mistakes are still happening because either the players aren’t anticipating Rodgers’ changes at the line of scrimmage or they’re not doing exactly what Rodgers wants them to do. The coaches keep stressing the adjustments that are baked into every call and yet the mistakes keep coming.

“I think there are critical plays that we have all kind of miscommunicated on in certain situations during the game and, honestly, you can’t have that,” receiver Sammy Watkins said. “You can’t have that. Once you have stuff like that, that you can’t get back, it pretty much F’s over yourself as a team.”

Watkins, for instance, took responsibility for the miscommunication between him and Rodgers on the final play of the game in the 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Rodgers saw the cornerback had inside leverage on Watkins, so he signaled for Watkins to change his route from a slant to a corner-fade.

Watkins said he was locked into his route and missed the signal from Rodgers.

“As wideouts, as a group, we can’t miss the small little cues,” Watkins said. “It’s just not being locked in. That little play screwed us up. We get up, that game is over. They don’t score anymore.”

The play was accentuated because it was the last chance the Packers had to win the game. But there were quite a few other plays that were missed before it that didn’t include mental errors and were not the receivers’ fault. Rodgers missed several wide-open targets during the game, a couple of which could have resulted in touchdowns.

The disconnect between quarterback and his targets has been a two-way street and somehow the coaches must figure out how to straighten it out. Dumbing down the offense doesn’t seem to be an option because, the coaches and Rodgers say, the things they’re doing aren’t that advanced.

Watkins said that they all need to play freer.

“At this point, we’re 3-6,” he said. “We can’t care about nothin’ out there and just put everything on the line. It’s a great situation to just let everything loose, go out there and make those plays that we really want to do.

“I’ve watched every game. We haven’t been losing. But we’ve been losing. So, that’s kind of the part that we don’t understand as a team. As players, we’ve been outperforming every team, but the score doesn’t show.”

The numbers don’t necessarily support Watkins’ claim that the Packers are outperforming their opponents. They rank 14th in total offense, 15th in passing, 20th in yards per passing play, tied for 17th on third downs and 27th in scoring.

Rodgers ranks 16th in passer rating (89.0), 22nd in average gain (6.6), tied for 27th in fewest interceptions (seven) and 29th in average length of his completions (4.72).

And after scoring nine points against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Packers now face a Dallas Cowboys team that ranks fourth in the league in passing defense, 11th in interceptions, first in sacks and ninth in third-down percentage.

Both the players and coaches acknowledge that injuries have affected the continuity and output. Watkins, Allen Lazard, Christian Watson and Randall Cobb all have missed multiple games. Rookie Romeo Doubs went through growing pains filling in for Watkins and Lazard, but of late he seemed to be in a groove.

Then, he suffered a high-ankle sprain on the first play of the Lions game and likely will miss several weeks.

More:Aaron Rodgers' gratitude for Mike McCarthy grows over time: 'I’ll always be tied with him'

Not only have they forced rookie Samori Toure to play more, but the injuries also affect where the other players line up. For instance, Doubs often lines up outside and Watkins, Lazard and Cobb split time in the slot or as the off-the-ball receiver. When Doubs went down, his assignments had to be split up and suddenly a receiver who doesn’t play that position as much is filling the spot.

“I think obviously injuries, trying different guys out at different positions, different plays (is a reason),” Lazard said of the passing game issues. “You know, we run good plays and then maybe one guy doesn't do his job too well, then it kind of ruins the play.

“It's been a multitude of things throughout the entire year of just not being able to get the offense to be able to fully click and get things rolling.”

There isn’t any margin for error for the Packers and only a victory Sunday will provide any glimmer of hope they can finish above .500. If they’re going to solve their communications problems on offense, Sunday would be the time to do it.

Packers get some good news on injury front

Watkins was one of five Packers who saw their practice status elevated Thursday. The veteran receiver, who was held out of Wednesday’s practice with a knee issue, was a limited participant in the second practice of the week. 

Others who saw at least limited action after not participating Wednesday were Rodgers (right thumb), tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins (knee) and corner Shemar Jean-Charles (ankle). Watson (concussion protocol) was removed from the injury report, practicing for the second day in a row. 

Those not practicing included linebacker De’Vondre Campebll (knee), linebacker Krys Barnes (concussion). corner Eric Stokes (ankle/knee). tight end Marcedes Lewis (vet rest day) and Doubs.

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