Dougherty: Get used to dink-and-dunk Packers
GREEN BAY - For better or worse, this is who the Green Bay Packers will have to be in 2016.
Spread the field, throw the ball short and then throw it short some more. The West Coast offense on steroids.
Dink, dunk, dink, dunk.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t smooth, and it wasn’t like anything we’ve seen before in the Aaron Rodgers era. But it worked Thursday in the Packers’ 26-10 win over the beleaguered Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. And all things considered, it figures to be the way the Packers will have to play from here on out if they’re going to have a chance to have a big 2016.
“You play the way you have to play,” coach Mike McCarthy said afterward.
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Coming into Thursday night, it was hard to see this as a big-picture game. The Packers were coming off an anemic loss to the Dallas Cowboys last week and nothing but questions about what’s been wrong with Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy’s offense for the last year. They were missing their top three cornerbacks and the only two halfbacks that were on the roster last week. And playing on Thursday night, they had a short week to recoup and practice after the Cowboys debacle..
This was a game to simply survive and find some way, any way to win against a Bears team that was short-handed, too. Then regroup over the long weekend.
But as the night went on, McCarthy, mostly by necessity, kept trotting out four- and five-receiver personnel groups, and eventually, it seemed to wear down a Bears defense that came into this game ranked No. 11 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 19 in points.
With all of Rodgers' struggles and the lack of big-play weapons in the passing game, it was hard not to come away from this game thinking this is how the Packers will be playing for a while and maybe the rest of the year.
They simply don't have the manpower at running back to do it any other way. Eddie Lacy (ankle) is on injured reserve and can’t return for at least eight weeks. James Starks (knee) is expected to miss a few weeks more. And then Don Jackson, promoted from the practice squad earlier in the day, injured his hand in the second quarter and didn’t return.
BOX SCORE: Packers 26, Bears 10
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So Knile Davis, acquired in a trade this week, and fullback Aaron Ripkowski were the only healthy running backs in the second half. Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb ended up shouldering most of the running game (14 carries combined), though that appeared to be the plan anyway.
Rodgers attempted 56 passes on 79 offensive snaps. He completed a career-high 39.
Three receivers caught at least 10 passes: Davante Adams (13, which is one short of Don Hutson’s team record), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10).
But no one is going to mistake this for one of the NFL’s all-time explosions. Collectively those three averaged 8.6 yards a catch. This was death by 1,000 cuts. Or maybe 10,000.
“This is how we’re going to have to play for a little bit until we get Knile up to speed and Don (Jackson) up to speed,” Rodgers said. “I thought (Montgomery) played great tonight, made a lot of plays. The short passing game was like an extension of the run game in games like tonight when you’re going with a lot of four-receiver packages with Ty back there (at running back).”
So McCarthy kept shuttling his receivers in and out of the lineup, and as the game went on, you had to wonder: Can a spread passing game wear down a defense just like a run game? McCarthy played Jordy Nelson most of this game and liberally rotated the rest of his receiving corps at three other spots (Adams, Cobb, Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis, though Davis played by far the fewest snaps), often with a tight end taking up the fifth skill position..
Play after play, they were running routes, and the Bears’ secondary had to cover each and every one. And their defensive line had to rush down after down as well.
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By the fourth quarter, the Packers were moving the ball up and down the field, especially after they went no-huddle. Granted, it’s a lot tougher envisioning how this will work against the Minnesota Vikings. And this game got much easier when the Bears’ No. 3 quarterback, Matt Barkley took over for injured Brian Hoyer (forearm) in the second quarter.
But compared to how the Packers had been playing, this radical change in offensive approach worked fairly well. It wouldn’t hurt if tight end Jared Cook returns in the next couple weeks, either. That would offer a big, athletic target the Packers lack now.
But for now, you can expect to see more of the same.