In all likelihood, the Green Bay Packers’ push for a postseason berth ended on Sunday in Minnesota after suffering a 24-17 loss to the division rival Vikings. Various analytics give the Packers anywhere between a three and six percent chance to make the playoffs, meaning it would take a minor miracle to extend the team’s season.
But at this point, would sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card even matter? Probably not. The Packers haven’t been getting blown out, but they’ve done nothing that reflects an ability to learn from mistakes and improve on a week-to-week basis.
A large part of that has to fall on the coaching staff. The team rarely looks good out of the gate, and has recently been struggling after halftime, an area where the Packers were previously dominant. The offense is stale, lacks innovation, and stagnates far too frequently. The defense, which to its credit has shown marked improvement under Mike Pettine, has been forced to plug UDFAs into key roles due to a plethora of injuries. That was all evident once again against the Vikings.
In fact, the same handful of issues that have plagued Green Bay all season reared their collective head once again in the potentially season-ending loss in Minnesota. Poor third down play calling, bad time management, an ineffective Aaron Rodgers, crushing special teams mistakes, and an inability to win on the road served as a perfect microcosm for the Packers’ 2018 campaign.
Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff should undoubtedly shoulder the bulk of the blame for the team’s struggles. The offensive play calling and execution, particularly on third downs, has been abysmal. Green Bay was just 2/10 on third downs against the Vikings, dropping their season conversion rate to 37%, the 9th-worst mark in football.
While the play calling has been questionable at best, Aaron Rodgers’ propensity to take sacks on that crucial down has been just as problematic. Three of Minnesota’s four sacks on Sunday came on third downs, and a whopping 19 of the 34 sacks Rodgers has taken this year have been on third down plays. It’s impossible for Green Bay to extend drives if Rodgers doesn’t even give his receivers a chance to make a play.
Outside of coaching and play calling, it’s probably Rodgers who is most at fault for the Packers’ issues. It says a lot about Rodgers as a player (and Packer fans’ expectations) that he’s statistically among the top 10 in most categories and is still leaving a lot to be desired. He went yet another game without an interception, but missed badly on a few throws that should have been big plays or touchdowns. The swagger and big play ability from throughout his career have been badly missed in 2018.
The team also continued its season-long trend of time management issues. The offense was called for another delay of game, and has been running the play clock to under five seconds on what seems like every single play. Rodgers and McCarthy have still not figured out how to salvage time outs in close games, a fact made even more frustrating by the terrible 4th and 1 play call the team used after burning a time out in the third quarter on Sunday.
Then there’s the special teams. It seems like every week they commit at least one massive screw up, and that was no different against the Vikings. With the Packers clinging to hope late in the game, Tramon Williams made one of the most boneheaded plays of his career by letting a punt drop only to bounce off of him and straight back to Minnesota. Ron Zook’s unit may have secured its coach’s fate as well with a continued inability to avoid backbreaking gaffes.
Throw in the fact that Green Bay lost on the road again, dropping them to 0-6 away from Lambeau this season, and you’ve got a perfect idea of how the team’s season has gone so far. While the team has not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, the fact that nearly every game they’ve lost has been a result of repeated miscues inspires no confidence that the team can turn things around. The last few chapters of the Packers’ 2018 story may still need to be written, but it seems like they’ll just say more of the same.——————
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 .