Have the Green Bay Packers and their offense reached rock bottom after about a year of uneven performance? For their sake to do anything significant in 2016, they had better hope so.
Everything was set up for the Packers to follow up a great offensive showing against the Lions with two more at home against mediocre defenses at best. They faced a tired Giants team that could generate zero pass rush and had an injury riddled secondary. Ditto for the Dallas Cowboys, who lack talent rushing the passer and were without cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, who got hurt early in the game. These defenses were ripped to be ripped to shreds, yet the Packers made them look like the 1985 Bears.
It’s hard to recall any elite player still in his physical prime fall off the face of the earth like Aaron Rodgers has. One of our fearless leaders at Packers Talk, John Rehor, mentioned on Twitter a Tiger Woods comparison, which is interesting because Woods’ struggles started to become extremely mental for him before turning physical with surgery on top of surgery, and it’s hard not to believe that it is not the case with Rodgers right now.
As a rule of thumb, I hate trying to get into minds of athletes because I’m not really qualified to do it and it’s all speculative. Rodgers still has all the tools that made him what he used to be — the best quarterback in the NFL — and at age 32 it’s hard for me to buy that those skills have left him. We still see them every now and again. Self confidence used to be one of Rodgers’ great strength, but you could see in his body language that he is in his own head at this point like when Woods got the chipping yips or Chuck Knoblauch could not throw to first base.
This was most evident in poor throws to Richard Rodgers and Randall Cobb, which were plays he used to make with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back. You could also see the mental struggles when Rodgers is seeing ghosts that aren’t there rushing him, or not seeing Barry Church at all and throwing the ball right into his chest. Cobb, who continued where he left off from last week, was open three times for possible touchdowns and Rodgers missed him three times.Whether these issues came about because a lack or trust in his coaches or teammates, an off the field issue, just doubting his own abilities or something else we will likely never know.
Of course, when the offense is this putrid it’s not just Rodgers’ fault, although it starts with him. There are personnel and scheme issues surrounding the unit. The personnel issues exist at the skill positions, which the Packers have ignored in the recent drafts. The last five first round picks have been spent on the defensive side of the ball and the only picks in the top three rounds that were picked on wide receivers, tight ends or running backs have been Eddie Lacy, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery.
All the major draft capital has been spent on defense, and with no free agency being used it’s catching up to the offense. There are no receivers or running backs getting the majority of the playing time on the Packers that run faster than a 4.5 40-yard dash. In addition to no speed, Jordy Nelson is the only receiver that is over 6-1. Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery are slot guys and Davante Adams can’t win on the outside consistently. Also, maybe the Packers will actually consider adding a receiving running back after seeing the impact Montgomery had today out of the backfield. So, how surprising is it that a receiving core with no speed and not much height can’t get open or win contested balls? Add that to a running back who has been productive, but has obvious limitations and the results have been what you have seen.
With all of that being said, the majority of NFL coaching staffs would take the Packers offensive players and be much more effective in using the talent better. Mike McCarthy has come under fire for much of the same scheme issues lately — not enough bunch, trips and stack formations, too many deep routes, not enough motion and too many isolation routes. You see players running wide open across NFL games on a weekly basis, but it seems every Packers catch is a contested struggle. For example, it seems like Phillip Rivers has guys running open every play in San Diego and they are down to Travis Benjamin and UPS men as wide receivers.
McCarthy has dabbled in more different personnel groupings, including the four and five wide receiver sets against Dallas that showed potential and should be used more, but the route concepts are still more or less the same. In addition to the stale offensive system, it’s time to question how much the players believe in McCarthy today. It’s very rare for a coach to win a Super Bowl after 10 or more seasons with the same team. The message just grows stale after awhile, even if the coach is great.
It started with Josh Sitton questioning play calling last season, so you wonder how many other players feel the same way. Most pundits will trace the Packers’ issues starting with the debacle in Denver last year, but it really started in the collapse in Seattle in 2014. That kind of loss can tear an organization apart and cause a schism between players and the coach, especially when many likely feel McCarthy blew it by kicking two early field goals at the goal line.
Everything was set up for the Packers that season with the MVP quarterback at the top of his game and a completely healthy team. The Packers were literally one made play away on about 15 different occasions from a return trip to the Super Bowl against a team it had already beaten and a championship was choked away in the final five minutes and overtime. That is something that you may never get over until you start fresh.
There is still the makings of a championship caliber football team inside 1265 Lombardi Ave. They have a great offensive line, a running back that nobody wants to tackle, two accomplished receivers and a defense littered with first round picks. It is up to the coach and the quarterback to bring it all together.