Monday Night Meltdown: How the Green Bay Packers Lost to the Bears
The Green Bay Packers, preseason Super Bowl darlings, had much to prove entering Monday night's showdown with the Chicago Bears.They had managed to escape with wins in each of their first two games, but had failed to look impressive in either contest. The fact that they had beaten a dazed and confused Philadelphia team, and then a rebuilding Buffalo team, meant little.
Ryan Grant, the team's star running back, went down for the season in Week 1. Green Bay didn't immediately plug the hole, preferring to hand the opportunity off to former first-round pick Brandon Jackson. Jackson looked fairly bad in Week 2, however, leaving the passing game unduly burdened. The Packers would need to prove they could run a balanced offense, and needed to win and win handily over Chicago.
The Bear entered at 2-0 as well, but on the strength of a bad rule that gifted them a Week 1 win over the hapless Detroit Lions. Yes, Chicago had then beaten the Dallas Cowboys, but the Packers remained the better team and needed to make a statement in the course of defeating Lovie Smith's crew.
None of it materialized. Green Bay lost on a last-minute field goal by Chicago's Robbie Gould, and are now left with five days of questions before facing Detroit at home themselves. Can they right the ship? Will Rodgers and company find a way to balance out the offensive attack? Here are five things that went horribly wrong for Green Bay Monday, and how they can be fixed.
5. Clay Matthews
After two straight weeks with three sacks to start the season, Matthews was shut out in that department by the Bears. He recorded only three total tackles, and one of those came on a play where he was badly beaten.
Although Green Bay sacked Cutler three times and had him scrambling throughout the first half, Cutler also racked up 37 rushing yards on the night and had more and more time to throw as the game progressed.
Despite a great season from Matthews last year, Green Bay has struggled to produce a consistent pass rush since installing defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme prior to 2009. Matthews seemed to have cured those ills, but with the attentions of the opposing offense very much focused on him, Matthews proved he may not be ready to bear that burden alone. A.J. Hawk, his counterpart at the other pass-rushing linebacker spot, may need to be sent more frequently to keep opponents honest in their blocking schemes.
4. Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers performed capably for the third straight week, completing 34 passes in 45 attempts and scoring both on the ground and through the air.
Still, he has been a mild disappointment this season, after having been touted as an early favorite for MVP. Five touchdowns and three interceptions in three weeks don't tell the whole story--he also has two rushing TDs and a passer rating of 93.3. He made a very impressive play in scoring the Pack's go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown, giving up his body to dive at the right pylon.
If the Packers are to overcome the loss of Grant, though, they need Rodgers to be more of a double threat, and should get more creative with their offense. The wildcat may be too much for a team that practiced nothing like that during preseason, but giving fullback John Kuhn eight touches is not the answer: The team could spread opposing defenses more by using one-back sets and spread looks more often.
3. Special Teams
The Packers' punt unit has been a disaster ever since the team inexplicably cut ties with current Seahawks punter Jon Ryan. Last season, the team ranked 19th in the NFL in yards per punt.
On Monday, punter Tim Masthay had no trouble kicking the ball a long way: He hit punts of 57 and 58 yards. Unfortunately, those kicks were low line drives that outstripped the coverage team's speed and discipline. It led to several big returns, including Devin Hester's game-changing 62-yard touchdown return. On the play Masthay was punting from his own end zone. At that spot on the field, hang time is more important than distance because more of the would-be coverage squad must stay home long enough to block aspirant punt blockers. Apparently, no one informed Masthay.
Kicker Mason Crosby also had a field goal blocked in the third quarter, spoiling an eight-minute drive by the Packers.
2. The Running Game
Brandon Jackson doesn't seem to handle pressure well.
The fourth-year back out of Nebraska ran for 63 yards on 18 carries in Week 1, after coming on to fill in for Grant. He managed only 29 yards on 11 carries against Buffalo, however, and then only 12 on seven attempts in Monday night's loss.
Jackson can contribute in the passing game as a receiver, but is not a good blocker and has proved not to be explosive enough to play every down. The Packers tried to show the Bears a thunder-and-lightning attack by using Kuhn so much, but the running game remained in neutral for the second straight week.
The cure for this offensive malady may be as simple as trading for a new back: The Packers are rumored to be pursuing Buffalo's Marshawn Lynch, and could make a run at Washington's Larry Johnson before the Week 6 deadline for trades passes.
Like special teams ineptitude, a lack of discipline in the area of penalty yardage has been endemic to the McCarthy regime in Green Bay. That demon haunted the Pack all night on Monday, as the team committed (count 'em) 18 penalties and gave the Bears 152 yards. A Rodgers touchdown pass and a Charles Woodson interception went by the boards when flags fell to the turf.
The fix for this issue remains elusive to McCarthy and his staff. Maybe the team needs to run drills based purely on (for instance) getting one's hands off an opposing receiver once he gets five yards off the line of scrimmage. Maybe a stricter sense of discipline inside the locker room would help: "You hold a cover man on a punt, you run a mile."
One way or another, there is plenty Green Bay needs to fix before Sunday's outing against a feisty but so far winless Detroit team.
Matt trueblood is a student at Loyola University Chicago and a B/R College Writing Intern. Follow him on Twitter.