Pete Dougherty and Bob McGinn look at the continuing struggles on offense for the Green Bay Packers. (Oct. 16, 2016) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Fitting, wasn’t it, that the Green Bay Packers wore throwback uniforms Sunday at Lambeau Field dating back to 1937.
An offense couldn’t have been more flat and musty than what coach Mike McCarthy put on the field against the Dallas Cowboys, who were as sleek and fresh in their approach as their classic silver-and-blue uniforms.
Based on the Cowboys’ 30-16 victory and the first six weeks of the season, it might be a case of two teams headed in divergent directions. It was total defeat for the Packers, who came up well short in originality, coach-to-player communication and fundamentals.
The crowd of 78,481 had dwindled to about 25,000 at the end of a sobering, ugly performance by the home team.
“We got our ass whipped,” linebacker Datone Jones said. “We played a good team, a playoff team, and now we’ve got to rebound.”
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Before the Packers embark on a stretch of four road games in five weeks, all against opponents with at least a .500 record, they’ll meet the Chicago Bears (1-5) Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
At 3-2, the Packers fell two games behind idle Minnesota in the NFC North and tied for the fifth best record in the NFC. Dallas, which had lost five straight games to McCarthy’s teams, is 5-1.
“Obviously, we’ve got to flip this thing around quickly,” said McCarthy. “It was a disappointing performance for us. We have a standard that we hold ourselves to. We did not accomplish that.”
McCarthy’s passing game was the same old same old, at least dating back to Game 7 last year, with Aaron Rodgers missing wide-open targets four or five times that might have reversed the outcome and the receiving corps making little or no headway against predominantly man-to-man coverage.
The defense, ranked No. 1 against the run, crashed back to earth against rookie stars Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. Elliott surged for 157 yards in 28 carries and the precocious Prescott, a fourth-round draft choice, performed as advertised with a passer rating of 117.4.
As impotent as the offense was for long stretches and the inability of the defense to thwart an attack missing wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Packers’ greatest failing was the minus-2 turnover differential.
It’s the underpinning of McCarthy’s success over the last 10 ½ seasons. Now, through five games, the Packers are minus-3 and searching.
Rodgers and Ty Montgomery each fumbled twice and Jordy Nelson lost another, leaving the Packers with an unsightly five fumbles (three lost) for the game.
“I can’t remember a game like this where we had so many big plays,” said Barry Church, the seventh-year safety. “We were flying all over the place stripping guys. It was a great show.”
The worst turnovers belonged to Rodgers, who decided to amble into the middle of the line after checking to a quarterback draw. With first and goal at the 1 the Packers were in an unlikely empty formation, but when defensive tackle Terrell McClain flushed Rodgers into defensive end David Irving the ball came out and Irving recovered.
“All week our defensive line was working on slapping the ball out of his (Rodgers’) hands because we felt like his ball security wasn’t that good,” Church said.
Ouch. Just as bad was the pass that Rodgers threw inside to Randall Cobb at the Dallas 40 that went directly to Church for an interception. Rodgers said he didn’t see Church, but he certainly should have.
“We were in man coverage and I had the tight end in man,” said Church. “But he stayed in and blocked so I kind of got low and hid in the weeds.”
The margin of defeat tied for the Packers’ worst in the regular season at Lambeau Field since McCarthy’s debut campaign in 2006.
“We’re 3-2, a lot of football left,” said guard T.J. Lang. “But we understand we’ve got to get better, and got to get better quick.”
The Packers, a 5-point favorite, had myriad chances to be competitive if not emerge victorious. Time after time, however, their moribund passing game let them down.
Protection was outstanding, as it has been in every game except Minnesota. Gutting it out on a bad ankle, Eddie Lacy provided more than enough balance (17 carries, 65 yards) to make the play-action game work.
Nevertheless, the Packers demonstrated that the statistics aren’t lying. Other than hurry-up in garbage time against soft defenses, they have nothing going.
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Their first possession, a 56-yard push, died on third and 1 when McCarthy went all jumbo against the Cowboys and fullback Aaron Ripkowski was stuffed.
Five years ago, the Packers’ chances for an undefeated season died in Kansas City when running backs James Starks and Brandon Saine were inactive due to injury, leaving Ryan Grant and John Kuhn as the only running backs.
More than once, McCarthy has said he wouldn’t get caught short at the position in the future. That’s exactly what happened Sunday after he and general manager Ted Thompson didn’t make a roster move to solidify the position.
Starks (knee) sat out, Lacy couldn’t play as much as expected and Ripkowski doesn’t have the ability to fill in at tailback as did Kuhn. It forced Montgomery to play extensively from the backfield, and as impressive as he was working the check-downs for 10 receptions he offered next to nothing as a rusher.
“(He) Lacy is a load,” Cowboys defensive tackle Maliek Collins said. “We set out to stop that man. We had to get all hats to the ball.”
In the second quarter, the Packers settled for a field goal after Rodgers threw slightly behind Richard Rodgers, who admitted he should have made the catch, anyway.
“We got after the quarterback pretty good,” said cornerback Brandon Carr. “Biggest thing this week was our plaster rules. He does a great job extending plays. The rush forced some hard throws.”
Later in the second quarter, Rodgers had Cobb open at the 10 against nickel back Byron Jones but underthrew the fourth-down pass just enough so Jones could tip it away.
“The one to Randall would have been nice,” said Rodgers. “Obviously the fumble down there kills us. I missed Richard. Other than that I felt better. I felt my movement was good tonight.
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“We’ve got to do a better job of hitting the ones we’re used to hitting.”
Late in the second quarter, Cobb was open again near the Dallas 10 when Rodgers’ pass sailed over his head.
“I felt like we got to him today,” defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. ”We had him moving around a little bit more than we usually do. We did a good job against him.”
In the fourth quarter, Cobb was wide open in the back of the end zone on a vertical route from the left slot but Rodgers missed again, sailing the pass high.
“With a guy like that he’s just a gunslinger,” said Carr. “I think within due time they’ll get back on the same page.”
Nelson, the supposed No. 1 wide receiver, fumbled the ball away on an 18-yard dig early in the game. Later, he offered next to nothing two or three times after the catch.
“Those extremity injuries are tough to come back from,” said Carr, a nine-year veteran who began playing against Nelson as a member of the Chiefs from 2008-’11. “You never know if a person’s 100%.
“I look at Jordy as a savvy receiver. He’s not really a physical receiver, so to speak. But he’s real crafty. Crafty at the line of scrimmage, crafty downfield. What gets you is the relationship between him and his quarterback.”
As usual, the Packers were almost bereft of big plays. The long gain was a beautiful sideline shot against Cover 2 to Nelson for 25.
The game turned toward the Cowboys late in the first half. On third and 1, cornerback Demetri Goodson was late getting on the field after one of those sideline communication gaffes for which McCarthy took responsibility.
Late setting up, Goodson was destroyed by tight end Geoff Swaim’s block as Lucky Whitehead turned his flank on a jet sweep for 26. When LaDarius Gunter was burned on the next two plays for 62 yards and a touchdown, the die was cast.
If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t regain his accuracy, the Packers will be swimming upstream all season.
“I’m not worried about that,” said Datone Jones. “We just need him to peak at the right time. When he gets going all of Wisconsin will be going.
“It’s been a long time since that happened. As a team, we’ve got to come back together for this week.”