The Green Bay Packers don’t have a lot of pure speed at receiver.
That in itself isn’t a back breaker. You don’t have to have great speed to get open in the NFL.
But if you aren’t a blazer, you'd better run precise routes, be quick in and out of breaks, and above all catch the ball.
And the Packers’ receivers haven’t been doing any of those things well lately, most especially in their loss as nine-point favorites against the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.
A look at the game video from their 17-13 loss showed that, as often was the case in their losing four of their last five games, their receivers are having trouble getting open. When they’re covered they often stay covered, and they’re dropping the ball way too often for a receiving corps that’s not making a lot of plays on its own.
What stood out above all else was that Davante Adams had at least as bad a game as it appeared watching the game live. Better play from him alone could have been the difference in the four-point loss.
Adams had three drops, including one on a post pattern that might have gone for a 47-yard touchdown. But he also appears to be running some bad routes and rounding off breaks rather than making sharp cuts. Most notably, he was primarily responsible for the fourth-quarter interception that ended a promising drive for the potential go-ahead touchdown.
The interception was a huge play. It was a timing route on a quick slant, and Adams simply ran a poor route. Yes, Bears safety Chris Prosinksi obstructed him a little, but after Adams made his cut he put his hands on Prosinksi and slowed. If he’d cut sharply and driven hard to the spot, he at minimum would have collided with Prosinski, which would have been an automatic pass interference. If not he would have run through any light contact and been on the spot for the pass.
But Adams ran a soft route, and Tracy Porter’s interception ended the drive at the Bears’ 45 with only 3:19 left in the game.
Similarly, early in the fourth quarter on a deep out route, Adams rounded off his break instead of planting his foot hard and cutting sharply to the sideline. Aaron Rodgers didn’t make a great throw, but running the route loosely left Adams without even a shot at the catch. If he’d run the route sharply, he would have had a chance.
Even on a bubble screen in the third quarter, Adams waited for the ball rather than driving on it. It arrived at about knee level, and he dropped it.
No doubt, the conditions Thursday night weren’t great for passing. It rained all game, and the temperature wasn’t much above 30 degrees. But the Bears didn’t seem to have trouble catching the ball.
Adams’ three misses were his only full-fledged drops, and James Jones had a huge one as well on a contested but catchable pass against Porter for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown in the final 30 seconds. Adams also failed to make what would have been an excellent catch on the Packers’ final play, when he leaped and had the ball skip off his extended hands on a pass actually intended for Cobb in the back of the end zone.
Going into the regular season and through the Packers’ 6-0 start, it was difficult to imagine that Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury would end up affecting this offense so profoundly. Without Nelson, though, Rodgers doesn’t have his trusted receiver with whom he connected on back-shoulder throws seemingly at will. And he lost his best receiver at coming back to the ball or finding openings along the sidelines when Rodgers broke the pocket.
For the past five weeks or so, when the Packers receivers start out covered, they more often than not stay covered. Without Nelson, defenses are tilting safety help to Randall Cobb, and the Packers don’t have a tight end who can exploit the middle of the field with Cobb occupying coverage.
After the game, coach Mike McCarthy made a rare declaration that he will make changes. You wonder if he was talking about personnel, and if so, whom? Will Jeff Janis play more at receiver? If Ty Montgomery comes back from a sprained ankle this week, will he play a lot immediately? Will Justin Perillo get some of Richard Rodgers’ snaps at tight end?
D does the job
The Packers’ defense played well enough to win by holding Chicago to only 17 points, and one reason was that it defended the outside run much better than in the regular-season opener at Chicago.
Datone Jones and Mike Neal were a big part of that. Both were good against the run — Jones (three tackles) in a relatively new role at outside linebacker, where he has been splitting time along with his usual role as an inside rusher in the Packers’ dime defense.
In that first meeting, Bears halfback Matt Forte rushed for 141 yards and had a 5.9-yard average. This time, he and backup Jeremy Langford combined for 92 yards and a 3.4-yard average.
There are two ways for a defensive end to play outside zone runs: He can try to push the tackle toward the sideline and essentially “spill” or string out the run so pursuit eventually gets the runner; or he can go underneath the tackle’s reach block and try to make the play himself, though if he doesn’t get there quickly enough he gives the back the corner.
Neal did the latter on a big play in the fourth quarter, when the Packers were desperate to get the ball back. The Bears ran Langford to the right, and Neal dipped underneath left tackle Charles Leno’s reach block, and pounced on Langford for a five-yard loss.
Earlier in the fourth quarter Neal also blew up a second-and-goal run outside by Forte that helped keep Chicago out of the end zone. On that play Neal dipped inside Jermon Bushrod’s block and helped drop Forte for a two-yard loss. The Bears didn’t score on third down and ended up with only a field goal.
Backup center JC Tretter had one glaringly bad play but overall had another good performance in place of injured Corey Linsely, especially as a run blocker. Tretter’s snafu was a big one — he basically rolled a shotgun snap to Aaron Rodgers on a third-and-15 in the third quarter, and all Rodgers could do was fall on the loose ball. But as a run blocker Tretter has great feet and an ability to get out to the linebacker level and not only make contact but sustain the block.
On their first offensive series of the second half the Packers opened with John Kuhn at fullback in place of Richard Rodgers at tight end. They ran the ball four straight times and gained 22 yards. Kuhn came out and didn’t play another snap even though he had a good block on each of those runs. Maybe the Packers will go with more two-back sets next week at Detroit. Kuhn blocks much better than Rodgers, and Rodgers hasn’t been providing any punch in the passing game anyway.
Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week. Follow him on Twitter @EricBaranczyk1