The Green Bay Packers will kick off Week 4 with a Thursday night match up against the division rival Chicago Bears. After three games in 2017, Green Bay holds a record of 2-1 and are tied with both the Vikings and Lions atop the division.
A 2-1 record is definitely respectable, especially given the Packers’ only loss came in the inaugural game at Atlanta’s new stadium, and adrenaline-filled contest where the home team was clearly fired up. But Green Bay’s performance raises more questions about the team’s longevity than its record alone would indicate.
From a purely statistical standpoint, the issues don’t seem so obvious. Aaron Rodgers has helped the Packers gain the second most passing yards in the NFL, and Green Bay ranks 10th overall in yards per game. Through three weeks, the team also has a top 10 defense (based on yards per game) and has actually surrendered the seventh-fewest passing yards.
With the early season statistical successes come some early season concerns. The scoring offense and scoring defense are both middling (15th and 18th, respectively). Rodgers has uncharacteristically thrown three interceptions through three games, more than the likes of Blake Bortles, Josh McCown, and other “worse” quarterbacks. Green Bay has also surrendered a league-high 13 sacks.
Anyone watching the Packers play knows that there are major problems that they need to address–and quickly. Some of that can be attributed to injuries, as the loss of both starting tackles has led to constant pressure and some poor decisions from Rodgers.
What’s more, those issues seem to be overwhelmingly present in the first half of games. Green Bay has only scored 14 first half points combined in three games. The team struggled against lowly Cincinnati, needing a late comeback and overtime to beat the Bengals in Week 3. The Packers have gone into halftime of each game this year with a deficit, relying on second half adjustments to eventually play better as the game progressed.
The difference has been noticeable individually as well. Rodgers has completed 60% of his first half passes, and throw just one touchdown and all three of his interceptions in the first half while averaging a paltry 5.7 yards per attempt–for a rating of 59.0. But in the second half, his performance is the polar opposite. The Packers’ quarterback completes 72% of his passes at 7.7 yards per attempt, with five touchdowns and no interceptions, posting a 116.3 quarterback rating.
The running game experiences a similar bump after halftime, even as the team goes more pass-happy to overcome deficits. Ty Montgomery averages just 2.2 yards per carry and 4.5 yards per catch in the first half. Those numbers jump to 3.7 and 8.5, respectively, after halftime. Of the team’s league-high 13 sacks surrendered, just three have come in the second half, including none in the fourth quarter.
The evidence is there, as the Packers continue to start slow game after game. They’ve been fortunate enough to battle back in the second half twice so far, but cannot count on mounting comebacks every week if they want to contend moving forward. Green Bay plays the Bears on Thursday, who are coming off an overtime victory of their own over the Steelers. Chicago is still a rebuilding team, but even struggling Bears teams have gone toe to toe with the Packers over the last couple years.
Green Bay will be looking to break out of its first half slumps on Thursday, and the Bears could be just the team to help the Packers do that. After all, Rodgers posted one of the best first halves ever a few seasons ago when he threw for six touchdowns before halftime against Chicago.
If the Packers want to succeed in 2017, they’ll need to avoid starting slow every week and become more consistent throughout the game. Figuring out those issues against the Bears looms large, as Green Bay faces two tough road contests against the Cowboys and Vikings in the coming weeks.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .