Green Bay Packers Facing Do-or-Die Final Stretch as NFC North Slips Away

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Green Bay Packers Facing Do-or-Die Final Stretch as NFC North Slips Away
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

How would one describe the 40-10 beating the Detroit Lions put on the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on Thanksgiving? Embarrassing? Troubling? Mystifying? Perhaps a combination of the three.

No matter how you slice it, the Packers were thoroughly dominated on Turkey Day. And the place where all the trouble started was in the trenches. Both the offensive and defensive lines of the Packers were just totally controlled by the Lions.

The stats don't lie. The Lions had 30 first downs to seven for the Packers. Detroit had 561 total yards, while Green Bay had just 126. The Lions had 241 yards rushing, while the Packers had just 24. The Lions had seven sacks, compared to one for the Packers. The Lions had 117 return yards, while the Packers had just 41.

Hard to believe that the Packers also had four turnovers in the game and still were beaten like a drum.

So, what does this all mean? Well, the Packers are now 5-6-1 and basically on life support. They trail the 7-5 Lions by a game and a half with four games to play.

Yes, there is a decent chance quarterback Aaron Rodgers will return on December 8, when the Packers will face the Atlanta Falcons, but that will certainly not cure all of the ills of the team that are going on right now, especially defensively.

Green Bay's inability to stop the run is the most puzzling aspect of all. Before the game against the Chicago Bears on November 4, the Packers were fourth in the NFL in rush defense, only allowing 83.6 yards a game. Since then, the Packers have been just chewed up and spit out in the ground game.

In the five games since that game against the Bears, which coincidentally was the night Rodgers fractured his clavicle, the Packers have allowed an average of 185.2 yards a game. That's over a 100-yard-per-game difference in the last five games.

The Packers have now fallen to 27th in trying to stop the run in the NFL.

Obviously, the inability to stop the run is one of the primary reasons the team went 0-4-1 in this recent stretch. It's not the only reason, but it's a good place to start.

In the 3-4 defense, the key to stopping the run is staying in your gaps and also controlling your opponent. That isn't happening, quite obviously.

If nothing else, it doesn't speak well of the personnel currently in place. The Packers started B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly across the defensive line on Thursday versus the Lions. Their track record against the run has been pretty stellar in the past.

In 2009, that same group helped the Packers to become the best run defense in the entire NFL. So why is it different now? It could be age, at least in the case of Pickett. It could be an injury issue (groin) in the case of Jolly.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Raji is a different story. No. 90 is still fairly young, as he was a rookie in 2009, and also a former first-round pick. The Packers also offered the former Boston College star a contract extension not long ago, and Raji is certainly not helping himself with the way the defense is getting gashed in the run game.

The Packers also drafted defensive end Datone Jones in the first round this year, and although he has flashed some ability in rushing the passer, he has not shown much of the run-stopping skill he showed in college at UCLA.

The linebackers are also not making plays at the point of attack. Injuries have been an issue for the group, but there is absolutely no excuse for being out of position and not setting the edge on run plays. The two most consistent linebackers the Packers have right now are Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk.

Hawk is having the best year of his career, but can anyone explain to me why he was assigned pass coverage duties versus running back Reggie Bush?

That scenario may be the biggest issue with the Packers right now. The coaching staff is not putting the players in the best possible situation to succeed.

Another case in point was when the coaching staff put Marshall Newhouse in at right guard, and kept Don Barclay at right tackle, when T.J. Lang had to move to center when Evan Dietrich-Smith suffered a knee injury. 

Newhouse has enough trouble at tackle, especially in run blocking. So why put him inside to face one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL in Ndamukong Suh? That just doesn't make sense to me.

So, what needs to happen for the Packers to turn around this downward spiral?

For one, except for the injured players who need medical attention, I would give the players time off until next week. The team is physically and mentally exhausted right now. There have been a lot of injuries over the course of the season, and the team had its bye very early in Week 4.

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Secondly, I would make sure that Rodgers has passed all of his medical concerns regarding his collarbone. If that's the case, his addition will certainly add continuity and consistency to the offense, as well as production in the last four games of the season.

The offensive line will obviously need to be able protect Rodgers as well as open holes again for the running game.

Remember, even as bad as the Packers looked yesterday offensively, the Packers were ranked second in the NFL in total offense prior to the game and were ranked fifth in both passing and rushing offense.

The addition of Rodgers will amplify that, and also make both phases of the offense better.

Thirdly, I would make sure that the coaches put the players in the best possible situation to succeed. Letting Hawk try and cover the speedy Bush is an example of NOT putting players in the best possible situation to succeed.

Look closely at individual matchups and do what it takes to help the players succeed. Give the player help at times (double-team assistance). Make substitutions when needed. When a player isn't doing the job, get him out of the game, no matter what position he plays.

I would not hesitate to make personnel changes at this point. For instance, former first-round pick Derek Sherrod should be given an opportunity to play some offensive tackle. Especially now that he has been practicing with the team for a number of weeks.

In the best-case scenario for the Packers this season, they would need to win their remaining four games to finish 9-6-1. To me, that is probably the only way the Packers will make the playoffs.

And winning the NFC North is also probably the only way of getting to the postseason. That means the Lions will have to lose two of their remaining four games (at the Eagles, the Ravens at home, the Giants at home and the Vikings on the road).

The opponents for the Packers are the Falcons at home, the Cowboys on the road, the Steelers at home and the Bears on the road. Based on the last five games I've seen, I would say the chances of the Packers winning all four games are very slim.

Now the addition of Rodgers would help the offense quite a bit. That might be the difference in a couple of the games remaining. But then there is the defense of the Packers, especially the run defense.

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The good news for the Packers is that all four of the teams the Packers will play down the stretch are in the bottom echelon in rushing offense. The Falcons are ranked 31st, the Cowboys 27th, the Steelers 30th and the Bears 22nd.

Of course, the Lions were only ranked 22nd in rushing offense prior to the game against the Packers. It sure didn't look that way when the Packers were gouged for 241 yards rushing.

Basically, it comes down to one game at a time. First, get a win. That's something that hasn't happened since October 27, when the Packers beat the Vikings in Minneapolis.

Build from that. Then try and win another. And so on.

But a victory won't happen unless all phases of the football team start to improve. It's up to the coaches and the players to look within themselves and find some intestinal fortitude.

The Packers were in a somewhat similar situation in 2010. The Packers needed to win their remaining two games and also get some help to reach the postseason. And that was as a Wild Card. That team was also ravaged by injuries.

The Packers got the help they needed that season, won their last two regular-season games and ended up winning three postseason games on the road as the No. 6 seed and then won Super Bowl XLV.

But that team was never as bad off as the 2013 Green Bay team currently is in a number of different areas.

Bottom line, the Packers are in a world of hurt right now. They have to find a way out of this deep abyss. But even if they do, it still might not be enough.

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