Banged-up Packers limping into bye week
The Green Bay Packers are one of the five unbeatens remaining in the NFL.
And now they've got a bye week to get a few key players healthy, most notably receiver Davante Adams, defensive lineman B.J. Raji and safety Morgan Burnett.
But in the big picture, they head into the bye with some nagging issues, such as they can be for a team that hasn’t lost through more than one-third of its schedule.
Yes, the Packers defeated the San Diego Chargers and their resourceful, ultra-competitive quarterback Philip Rivers, 27-20. But they gave up 548 yards in doing it, and for the third straight week their banged-up offense had what can only be called a blasé performance.
That’s not what a team with such high aspirations — anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl will have to be a disappointment for these Packers — is looking for heading into the meat of the schedule that includes their most challenging games to date, on the road against unbeaten Denver and Carolina.
That ambivalence was evident in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ subdued demeanor in his postgame press conference. His words said he was happy, but his demeanor was a notch or two lower.
“At this point, we don’t need to win pretty every week,” Rodgers said. “We’d like to and we’re going to get graded to that standard. You set the bar pretty high with the pretty wins. But when you have a game like tonight, 49 (offensive) plays, the inefficiency in the passing game, it’s not going to be the best meeting room coming back next Monday. But they all count the same. We’ll take ’em all.”
A few things stood out Sunday.
Packers weather Rivers' aerial onslaught
One, that the Packers are missing Adams, who seems almost a sure bet to return for Denver after missing essentially the last four games because of his ankle injury.
Another was the noteworthy absence of halfback Eddie Lacy, who has been playing through an ankle injury but had only four carries for three yards against the Chargers on a day when the Packers could have used a hammer on offense.
And the third was Rivers’ commanding performance in shredding the Packers’ defense.
We’ll start with the latter. Playing with an offensive line that was missing three starters, the 33-year-old Rivers orchestrated the Chargers' offense from the line of scrimmage in his no-huddle scheme calling plays and blocking schemes and pointing out possible blitzers on play after play.
With no running game to speak of (the Chargers had 60 yards rushing), he ended up throwing an astounding 65 passes with his funky shot-put throwing motion. That’s the most attempts of any quarterback against the Packers in a game. His 503 passing yards ties Ben Roethlisberger for second-most by an opposing quarterback against the Packers. And he did it mostly through willpower and a quick throwing release, because he’s not a particularly athletic evading rushers.
“He’s elite,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “You see it on film, but until you actually go against it and see all the checks he makes to get that offense in the right position and the right play, it’s scary. They have a high-powered offense. But the thing is we found a way to win.”
As to the ailing Packers’ offense, they’ve averaged 22.7 points in their three most recent wins against San Francisco, St. Louis and the Chargers. Adams didn’t play in any of those games, and Sunday the Packers lost another receiver when rookie Ty Montgomery sustained an ankle injury early in the second quarter. Judging by the way he was unable to put any weight on it as he came off the field, there’s plenty of reason to think he’ll need more than this week’s bye before his return.
It’s clear six games in that while tight end Richard Rodgers offers a huge target and excellent hands, he’s also not dynamic enough to threaten defenses or make plays after the catch. And James Jones, while productive, has his limitations at age 31 as well.
On Sunday, second-year pro Jeff Janis on two plays at least flashed some explosiveness that could help Aaron Rodgers as the season goes on — one was a 46-yard catch downfield on a broken play, and on the other Janis' 4.42-second 40 speed turned a short Rodgers back-handed toss into a 33-yard gain.
Thumbs up to Starks, down to pass defense
But the Packers still appear to be counting mainly on Adams to bring back some of the juice that’s been missing, and they have to be hoping Montgomery isn’t out too long, either.
“We’ll see what Ty’s status is, and Davante, it’ll be great to get Davante back because he adds another dimension outside with his quick-twitch ability,” Rodgers said. “The week will be good for both of those guys. We have spots for a lot of different people, and we’ve got to find ways to get our best players on the field at all times and ways to get the ball to them in space.”
Lacy’s light day came out of the blue, because while playing through his ankle injury he’s at least been splitting time with James Starks. But Starks broke off a 65-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, and Lacy played only intermittently thereafter.
After the game Lacy insisted there was nothing to it except Starks’ strong start. But one thing's for sure: especially with Jordy Nelson out for the season, this team isn’t going anywhere against good defenses without Lacy playing a key role.
“When Starks started off with the big run right out of the gate it’s hard to shut that down,” Lacy said. “You want to keep going and see what you can get out of him, and he kept rolling.”
So now comes the week off and the two toughest tests of the season, on the road against teams off to great starts. The outcomes of those games will only mean so much — the Packers will be only at the halfway point of the season, and so much can get better or worse by December and January. But those games will give the Packers a better sense of who they are.
“This (San Diego) game could be a building block getting us ready for that,” said Julius Peppers, the Packers’ 35-year-old outside linebacker. “It’s great to be 6-0, it’s great to win all of your games. At the same time we’ve got to come back to work and hopefully have some of these guys (back after) a couple weeks rest and ready to go so we can get back to full strength.”
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