Green Bay Packers: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
The Packers now have to continue their road tour and head to Houston to take on the undefeated Texans (5-0).
Plus, the injury bug is hitting the team hard. Running back Cedric Benson is probably out at least eight weeks, and perhaps the entire season, with a Lisfranc foot injury he suffered in the Colts game, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
In addition to that, B.J. Raji sprained an ankle, and Jermichael Finley suffered a shoulder injury in the same game. We won't know about their availability until Wednesday.
The Packers were already missing wide receiver Greg Jennings, who has been hampered by a groin injury.
The bottom line is that the Packers have underachieved so far in 2012. Almost every expert had the Packers winning the NFC North this year, with the Detroit Lions right on their heels. The Chicago Bears were expected to be better, while the Minnesota Vikings were a couple of years away from contending.
You wouldn't know any of that if you looked at the standings of the NFC North right now. The Bears and Vikings sit atop the division right now with 4-1 records, while the Pack is 2-3 and the Lions have bottomed out to 1-3.
It's like looking at an alternate universe, at least according to what most expected to happen in the 2012 season.
Still, there are 11 games yet to play in the 2012 season for the Packers. Time enough to get the ship righted. But there is a lot of work to get done.
The Green Bay offense, which was prolific last year, struggled out of the gate in 2012, but it looked much better in the game against the New Orleans Saints and in the first half of the Indianapolis game. Then came the second half.
The stats don't lie, folks. The Packers are ranked 21st in total offense in the NFL. Green Bay is ranked 15th in passing offense and 20th in rushing offense.
Now with Benson's injury, the Packers will have to rely on their three young running backs to put some life in the ground game—Alex Green, James Starks and Brandon Saine.
Benson's performance as a running back for the Packers was solid, and he was heading toward at least 900 yards rushing this year and close to 50 receptions. Not Pro Bowl material, but pretty good for the Green Bay offense, which is a pass-first type of attack.
Time will tell if the young backs can play up to their potential.
Green looked good on a 41-yard run last week. He also has fine hands and catches the ball well.
Starks proved in the 2010 postseason that the team can lean on him, as he gained 315 yards in four games.
Saine is probably the team's best blocking running back, plus he's very solid in carrying out his assignments.
The three of them have a golden opportunity now to prove themselves. Starks has been on the shelf with a turf toe injury through the first five weeks of the season and was expected to be the starting running back when training camp got started.
But a bad performance in the first preseason game and his injury have put Starks on the outside looking in. Especially after the team signed Benson as a free agent early in training camp.
Still, the most perplexing part of the Green Bay offense is the passing game and the lack of big plays. That, and allowing way too many sacks.
On the surface, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is having a pretty good year. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes, compared to four picks for 1,307 yards. That all adds up to a 97.0 quarterback average, which is eighth in the NFL.
But the big play is missing. Rodgers only has one completion of 40-plus yards and only has 12 completions of 20-plus yards in five games.
One thing that is not missing (but should be) is the sack situation. Rodgers has been sacked 21 times already this season and is on pace for being sacked 67 times, which would set a team record. That has to change.
Some of that is the fault of the offensive line. Some of that falls on Rodgers, who sometimes holds the ball too long.
Bottom line: Even with the injuries to Jennings and Benson, the Packers are much better offensively than what they have shown thus far in 2012.
Defensively, the Packers are much better than they were in 2011, when the team was ranked dead last in total defense. The Packers are currently ranked 16th in the NFL in total defense. Breaking it down, the Packers are 17th in rushing defense and 16th in passing defense.
The Packers saw their passing defense struggle, as they allowed Luck to throw for 362 yards last Sunday.
Still, there are signs of life for the defense. The Packers are tied for the NFL lead with 18 sacks so far in 2012. The pass pressure is led by Clay Matthews, who already has eight sacks. However, for the Packers to get to elite status on defense, the turnovers have to start coming.
Last year the Packers led the NFL in interceptions by a wide margin with 31. This year, the team only has five in the same number of games. The Packers need to average two a game like they did last year.
Based on the pass pressure the team is putting on opposing quarterbacks, there is a decent probability that will happen.
The Bears are one of the teams tied with the Packers with 18 sacks for the NFL lead. However, Da Bears also have a whopping 13 picks. That, in a nutshell, is why Chicago is 4-1.
More on the NFC North in a moment.
Back in 2009, the Packers played the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa in Week 8 of the season and were heavy favorites to win. The Bucs were led by a rookie quarterback named Josh Freeman. He led a comeback in the fourth quarter, and the Packers were upset in the game, 38-28.
That game gave the Packers a 4-4 record and was the watershed moment of the season. Green Bay went on to win seven out of its last eight games to make the playoffs.
Compare that situation with what happened last Sunday. The Packers were once again heavy favorites to beat the Colts and a rookie quarterback. But the rookie (Andrew Luck) led his team back in the second half, and once again the Packers suffered a shocking loss.
So the question is, will this game also be the watershed moment of 2012?
Yes, the Packers are indeed 2-3. But the team has only played one divisional game, when the Packers gave the Bears their only loss of the season.
The Packers have to find a way to win as many games as possible before their bye week on November 11th.
After that, the real fun starts. The Packers will play five divisional games in seven weeks to end the season. Those seven weeks will determine what type of team the Packers have.
For now, the main focus of the Packers is to play up to their potential. And to stay healthy and get their injured players healthier.
The rest will take care of itself. And based on the talent Green Bay has, I see good things happening down the road for the Pack in 2012, even with the current situation.
Now is not the time to panic.
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