OAKLAND, Calif. - These are strange times for the Green Bay Packers.
With two weeks left in the regular season, they’ve hit the important 10-win threshold and already are in the playoffs. There are plenty of teams out there, including the Oakland Raiders club they just vanquished by a 30-20 score Sunday, who would love to be in their place.
Yet, something still feels off. Their offense, though better with coach Mike McCarthy back calling plays for the second straight week, still lacks the rhythm and playmaking that made it one of the most-feared units in the league the past several seasons.
And that jibes with the vibe coming from a couple of the Packers’ principals Sunday.
McCarthy got defensive in his postgame press conference when hit with multiple questions about his offense and whether it’s good enough to get to the NFL’s Promised Land. The Raiders held the Packers to 97 yards in the first half and outgained them 372-293 in the game. Seven of the Packers’ 30 points came on Damarious Randall’s 43-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“We’re right where we need to be,” McCarthy said. “The style points, you can flush that. I’m sick and tired of talking about the negativities. We’ve won 10 games. We lost three games on the last play of the game and Denver beat us. That’s the overview of our season and we’ve got a chance to win 11 next week.”
Yet, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who several times was visibly frustrated on the field, followed McCarthy at the press-conference podium with a curt, negative summation of the offense’s day.
“We weren't very effective,” he said. “We had less than 300 yards and had a terrible first half.”
So the starting point after the Packers’ win Sunday is that they’re in the playoffs. Any team with an elite quarterback such as Rodgers always has a chance for a postseason run, even if it’s shown little reason to predict it with its play to date.
“You get in and you hit that stride,” said Charles Woodson, the former Packers defensive star who is finishing up his career with the Raiders. “When I was there, I think we were 10-6 (in 2010) I believe. We got in there and got hot and nobody could stop us. They’re in. You get in, you’ve got a shot. We’ll see.”
But Woodson’s Raiders also showed that the Packers’ offensive shortcomings haven’t disappeared with McCarthy running the offense. The Raiders played almost the entire game with Woodson as the single-high safety. They essentially said they were going to stop Eddie Lacy in the run game at all costs and dare the Packers’ receivers to beat their man-to-man coverage.
It mostly worked.
Lacy (11 carries for 23 yards) and James Starks combined for 84 yards rushing on 20 carries. In the second half, McCarthy basically abandoned his traditional three-receiver offense and instead liberally used a four-receiver, one-back set with receiver Randall Cobb often lining up in the backfield along with John Kuhn. That at least got the Raiders out of their base defense, which is their best run-stopping personnel.
More than anything, though, this game again highlighted that without injured Jordy Nelson, the Packers’ receiving corps doesn’t threaten defensive game planners.
“(Nelson) is that one guy that can really stretch the field,” Woodson said, “because they have a couple guys that they supposedly can put in that can stretch the field. If you’re not able to run the ball with the backs they have and you make them be one-dimensional and put pressure on them, yeah, the offense is not going to be what it’s supposed to be.”
When asked what young players could stretch the field for the Packers, Woodson referenced second-year pro Jeff Janis, though not by name.
“They’ve got one guy that’s supposed to be white lightning I hear,” Woodson said. “Put him out there, let him run deep.”
Regardless, the performance by the Packers’ receiving corps justified the Raiders’ approach, and the approach the Packers will continue to see until their season is finished.
Davante Adams remained a mostly silent partner in the offense (five catches for only a 6.4-yard average), and among his misplays was a jump ball that went through his hands that would have been a 14-yard touchdown pass and cost the Packers four points in the third quarter.
Jones has trouble separating but at least brought back the back-shoulder throw (six catches for 82 yards), which was the Packers’ best play in the second half.
And Janis, who doesn’t get much playing time, failed his quarterback twice. First, he dropped a short slant that would have converted a third down deep in Raiders territory in the third quarter. That probably cost another four points.
And when Rodgers took a chance and lofted a throw to a covered Janis in the end zone late in the game, Janis didn’t help the quarterback at all. Instead of attacking the floating pass and at minimum breaking it up, he waited for the ball, which gave cornerback David Amerson an easy interception.
If Rodgers is going to have to take more chances with a receiving corps that’s struggling to get open, those receivers have to at least go get the ball.
Basically, the Packers’ best hope for a little more bounce on offense is the possible return of receiver Ty Montgomery (ankle) and more of second-year pro Jared Abbrederis.
Montgomery has missed eight games and keeps aggravating his ankle in practice, so it’s not clear whether he’ll be back at all. Abbrederis had three catches for 33 yards on three targets. He’s also a receiver Rodgers trusts.
“(Abbrederis) can get open,” Rodgers said. “He’s a good route runner. He needs to be on the field more.”