It’s a discussion nearly everyone thought they wouldn’t be having heading into Week 3 of the 2012 regular season:
“What’s wrong with the Green Bay Packers’ offense?”
In a sense, it’s a fair question to ask. The Packers offense, led last year by NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, set a team record for points and was one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. No defense could contain Rodgers, and thanks to his ridiculously deep crop of wide receivers, someone usually had single man coverage and Rodgers regularly put the ball on the money.
Late in the regular season, the offense slowed down a little but it was still head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL (except maybe the New Orleans Saints). Rodgers’ QB rating dropped a little bit, but there was absolutely no reason for concern heading into the playoffs.
Then the wheels came off in the divisional round against the New York Giants.
Rodgers’ ball placement was off and when the ball was on target, his receivers had a rough time hanging onto the ball. The Packers lost the game 37-20 and their dominant 15-1 regular season was all for naught.
Fast forward to the game against the San Francisco 49ers. Picking right up where they left off against the Giants, the offense again had issues. Rodgers seemed out of sync and once again his receivers had more than their fair share of drops (Jermichael Finley alone was credited for three).
The Packers lost the game 30-22 thanks in part to both a defense that couldn’t stop anyone if their lives depended on it and an offense that just was not in sync. Rodgers threw an uncharacteristic bad pass that was intercepted as the Packers were driving for the potential game-tying score.
In the three days between the 49ers game and this past Thursday’s matchup against the Chicago Bears, the defense took nearly all the blame. Yes, there were some questions about the offense but many chalked the issues the Packers had up to playing against a 49ers defense that was among the NFL’s best a year ago and looks to be in top form for 2012.
This week, however, the debate likely will be a little different.
The Packers beat the Bears 23-10, but that was thanks in large part to a dominating defensive performance that sacked Jay Cutler seven times and intercepted him four times. The Packers scored two touchdowns, but one was on an incredible fake field goal shovel pass from Tim Masthay to Tom Crabtree.
A Rodgers-to-Driver 26-yard pass accounted for the other.
Think about this: In two regular season games this year, the Packers special teams have scored 22 points if you include three Mason Crosby field goals against the Bears but not the two-point conversion for Week 1. If you give the offense those two points, they have scored 23. It’s not a good sign usually when your offense is outscoring your special teams by one point (extra points credited to the offense so they get the full seven points).
To repeat the question I ask in the headline of this article: Is there anything wrong with the Packers offense?
The answer is yes….and no.
It seems like the pass protection issues that plagued the Packers in 2009 have begun to resurface. Rodgers was sacked five times against the Bears and was constantly under pressure. This goes along with three sacks suffered against the 49ers. Marshall Newhouse in particular has been picked on more than most, but thanks to a lack of depth along the offensive line, there really isn’t a better alternative unless Don Barclay can somehow become a tackle.
Rodgers too seems to have been forcing throws into places he normally would not. The interception he threw late in the game against the 49ers was a bad throw. Rodgers made another one against the Bears that should have been an interception, but Lance Briggs somehow dropped the ball that landed right in his hands. Then there was the actual interception against the Bears but that was a bad route by James Jones and that pick should not be on Rodgers.
All things considered, it still isn’t time for Cheeseheads to start screaming the sky is falling in regards to the Packers offense.
Fans need to remember that the numbers Rodgers and the Packers offense put up the last two seasons are very difficult to maintain. NFL defensive coaches are too smart to let a juggernaut like the Packers offense of 2010-2011 go unchecked for too long. The Saints too have taken their lumps. Look at how Drew Brees and company performed in Week 1.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said it best this week: “I’ve never attempted to play the new season the same as the last season. I just don’t think that’s feasible in this league” (via the Journal Sentinel).
Teams that were as one-dimensional as the Packers were last season rarely are able to win a championship, and McCarthy recognizes that.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a much more balanced offense. Cedric Benson brought the Packers rushing attack out of a long hibernation with his 81 yards on the ground. He showed he is a much more decisive runner than James Starks, and if the Packers can grind out that much on a regular basis, then that takes some pressure off of Rodgers.
If the defense continues to improve and be aggressive, Rodgers won’t need to put up 2011 numbers for the Packers to win games. It’s much easier and more efficient way to try and win a Super Bowl than to let an offense be forced to air it out and have a “bend but don’t break” defense.
There’s a lot of football left, but if the Packers can improve just slightly on offense to go along with the defense that showed up on Thursday, then it’s arguable that the Packers will be much better positioned to make a Super Bowl run than they were a year ago.