Pedestrian Packers lack explosiveness
The Green Bay Packers have a dire lack of explosive talent and playmaking ability.
That reality has been glaring the last two weeks, never more so than Sunday in their 47-25 blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Their play, no doubt, has been uninspired in their dispiriting losses to Indianapolis at home and then at Tennessee in back-to-back games against AFC South teams. But one of the reasons they’ve looked uninspired is that they don’t have the explosive talent to make the plays that turn games.
Now, we can’t say that without acknowledging that injuries have played a big role there. That’s mostly on defense, where three of their most dynamic players have been out: Clay Matthews (last three games), Sam Shields (since the opener) and Damarious Randall (last four weeks). There’s no question their absence matters. A lot.
That, however, doesn’t account for the Packers allowing the Titans to score touchdowns on their first four possessions and 47 points overall. Other NFL teams lose great and good players and put up a lot more resistance than coach Mike McCarthy's team did Sunday.
McGINN: Rating the Packers vs. Titans
It’s just that the Packers have shown minimal explosive talent without those players. The quality of their depth is not what McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson thought it would be.
Mike Daniels is their best defensive player, and he’s the only difference maker on that side of the ball. But he’s a defensive tackle, and offenses can minimize his impact by double-teaming him regularly.
Then the other players the Packers look to for playmaking aren’t coming through.
Outside linebacker Julius Peppers, for instance, finally is succumbing to age (36 and in his 15th NFL season). He didn't make the stat sheet in 19 snaps Sunday and played a big role in one of the Packers' worst plays: DeMarco Murray’s 75-yard touchdown run on the Titans’ first snap from scrimmage.
If you look back at the video of that run, Peppers was unblocked coming off the snap and shot so far upfield that he was out of a play run right at him. That allowed left tackle Taylor Lewan to go unencumbered after safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, which is a mismatch of the highest order. And that block left Murray with a huge lane for the long run.
In the meantime, one of the Packers’ best defensive players this season, outside linebacker Nick Perry, has proven to be far less effective as a pass rusher without Matthews on the field. In the last three weeks, all without Matthews, Perry has a half-sack. That includes no quarterback hits against Tennessee on Sunday.
Seventh-year safety Morgan Burnett not only isn’t making many plays but also gave up a huge one Sunday in the first quarter when he bit so hard on a Murray run to his left that he didn’t even look at tight end Delanie Walker until Walker had run right past him. Murray stopped and hit Walker for an easy 10-yard touchdown pass that put the Titans up 14-0.
Even the promising Clinton-Dix hasn’t made the jump in Year 3. He got his first two interceptions of the season last week against Indianapolis, and his six tackles against the Titans look fine on paper. But he did nothing to change Sunday’s game in the Packers’ favor. Emblematic of his day was his tackle of Walker on a screen pass late in the first quarter. He got Walker to the ground, but not until the tight end had carried him about 5 yards.
The Packers are so bereft of explosive ability on defense that they have to play their scheme nearly flawlessly, which they didn’t come close to doing Sunday.
On offense, the Packers also lack dynamic talent, and they can’t attribute that to injuries. None of their top receivers is overly explosive. Jordy Nelson has lost a step after ACL surgery, and Randall Cobb doesn’t run by anyone or make catches downfield.
Davante Adams has played well of late, but he’s not running away from anybody. As nice a cut as he made to get to the middle of the field on his 46-yard reception in the second quarter, a more explosive receiver, maybe someone in the Greg Jennings mold, would have taken that for an 85-yard touchdown.
Most teams have a receiver who can take the top off a defense, but the Packers don’t. Jeff Janis is one of their two fastest, but his playing time is spotty. And to be fair, while he’s a big, fast guy, he’s not a natural. He looks stiff running routes and still has trouble tracking deep balls coming over his shoulder.
Fifth-round pick Trevor Davis is as fast as Janis, but he has a slight build (188 pounds) and is having trouble getting playing time. Geronimo Allison must be performing better than Davis and Janis in practice, because he played ahead of them in this game. And Ty Montgomery had some success keeping the chains moving with short catches out of the backfield and slot in previous weeks, but lingering problems from his sickle-cell trait limited his playing time Sunday. Also, McCarthy has shown no desire to stick with the receiver-oriented attack that gave the offense some life against Chicago and Atlanta in late October.
Overall, the Packers looked listless for much of the game against Tennessee, and one of the reasons is foot speed. They just don’t have the explosiveness to make the plays that change games and get teams going.
The bright spot
One of the few Packers who played well Sunday was rookie inside linebacker Blake Martinez, who had one of his best games of the season.
Martinez made a team-high 10 tackles, though that number alone doesn’t mean he played well.
Looking at it from a bigger picture, if you take away the 75-yard touchdown run on Tennessee’s first play — and, of course, you can’t take that away — Murray and backup Derrick Henry combined for a manageable 79 yards and 3.0-yard average rushing the rest of the game. Martinez played as big a role as anyone in that.
Martinez’s best play probably came early in the third quarter when the Packers were desperately behind and needed the ball back. On a second down he pressed the line hard, and when Murray tried to cut outside, Martinez slid with and dropped him for no gain. That helped lead to a rare Titans punt.
» Four weeks ago against Dallas, second-round pick Jason Spriggs replaced injured Bryan Bulaga in the fourth quarter and looked noticeably improved from training camp as a pass protector, showing more patience instead of lunging at rushers and getting off balance. But he had a much rougher time at left tackle when David Bakhtiari (knee) left Sunday's game late in the third quarter. In 24 snaps, Spriggs gave up two sacks to outside linebacker Brian Orapko, and on both Spriggs lost on pure speed, which is supposed to be his strength. Orakpo was able to beat him to the outside, and Spriggs wasn’t fast enough to get his hands on him to push him wide around the corner and past quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
» Running back James Starks didn’t look like a guy coming off meniscus surgery on his knee that had sidelined him for four games. Starks (seven carries for 33 yards) appeared to be his normal self, a physical back who puts his foot in the ground and goes up field. With Eddie Lacy (ankle surgery) looking like he might not return this season, Starks will have to provide the bulk of the Packers’ run game from here on out.
Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week during the season. Follow him on Twitter @EricBaranczyk1