Dougherty: Defenseless Packers in disarray

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers strong safety Micah Hyde (33) gives up a long gainer to Washington tight end Jordan Reed (86) at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, November 20, 2016.

LANDOVER, Md. - The Green Bay Packers are unraveling, and fast.

Their losing streak now is four games after Washington dispatched them 42-24 on Sunday night, and it really has been an eye-opener the last two weeks to watch Tennessee and then Washington blow the Packers off the field with 40-plus point performances.

Just like last week against Tennessee, the Packers’ defense simply couldn’t match up with the skill position players. Washington tight end Jordan Reed (five catches, 79 yards), slot receiver Jamison Crowder (three for 102) and wideout Pierre Garcon (six for 116) ran through the Packers’ secondary for several big plays that kept Green Bay at arm’s length throughout the second half.

BOX SCOREWashington 42, Green Bay 24

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Clay Matthews was back after missing three games because of a hamstring injury, but it didn’t matter. The Packers’ defense ruptured again and allowed 515 total yards. When Garcon, Crowder and Reed weren’t hitting big plays or making easy catches over the middle to convert third downs, running back Robert Kelley (24 carries for 137 yards) was hitting a 66-yard run in the final minutes to put the game away.

Where the Packers go from here is anyone’s guess, but their road to an eighth straight playoff appearance has become incredibly steep. At 4-6, they’re now two games behind Minnesota (6-4) and Detroit (6-4) in the NFC North division. With six games to play, that’s not insurmountable, but the Packers’ arrow is pointed decidedly down, and having to climb over two teams instead of one makes things much tougher. A wild-card spot isn’t out of reach either, but so many teams are in the running that it’s not even worth figuring out the odds there.

And at this point, talking about the playoffs brings to mind Jim Mora’s famous rant, “Playoffs? Playoffs?!?”

These Packers first need to show that they can win a game.

But to do that, they have to find out a way to get some stops, and they’ve shown no sign of being able to do that at key times during this four-game losing streak. When Atlanta needed a touchdown to win in the final minutes of a game a month ago — it seems more like a year ago — it got it. When Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck needed a couple of first downs to clinch a win over the Packers the following week, he got them. Every time the Packers threatened to make it a game last week at Tennessee, the Titans scored. And Sunday night, whenever the Packers pulled to within one score in the second half, Washington answered with a score. The Packers just can’t stop anybody when it counts.

The Packers’ lack of speed in the secondary without Sam Shields (concussion) and Damarious Randall (groin) is glaring. Randall might be back this week, but Shields almost surely is done for the year, so some of those issues are going to persist. Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett appeared to be AWOL on several third-down conversions and big plays.

If the Packers are looking for bright spots, they can point to Jared Cook, who finally gave them some play-making from the tight end position in his return from a high-ankle sprain. Cook (six catches for 105 yards) brought some explosiveness and a big-play element to the offense that has been missing, as he showed on a 47-yard catch in a one-on-one matchup with safety Donte Whitner on a third down. Randall Cobb (47-yarder) and Davante Adams (37-yarder) made a couple of big plays that have been missing from this offense for most of the season.

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Still, despite putting up good numbers — the Packers had 424 yards in total offense, and Aaron Rodgers threw for 351 yards and a 115.0 rating — something still isn’t quite right with the Packers’ offense. James Starks was back at running back to provide a more conventional attack but averaged only 2.8 yards on his nine carries. This team still looks like it has to throw way more than it wants if it’s going to move the ball consistently, but that comes with its own perils, such as the blustery winds at FedEx Field on Sunday.

The Packers’ 2016 season is on the brink of collapse. Mathematically, next week’s game at Philadelphia might not be a must-win, but if they lose can the Packers really come back from 4-7 to make the playoffs? Seems, shall we say, highly improbable.

Maybe something will change or click in the season’s stretch run, but really it’s hard to see that happening. A secondary that looked like the roster’s strength going into the season has collapsed, and overall it looks like the Packers just don’t have the talent to beat good teams.

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