Packers will have early playoff exit if they can't fix passing game
After a brief spell in which they looked like they might be able to get back on track, the Green Bay Packers once again look like a pretty bad football team, desperately searching for the inspiration that once made them very good.
They ended up being completely taken to pieces by the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in a 38-8 loss which reinforced how good Arizona was, but also left the Packers listless and staring at a difficult Week 17 encounter with the Minnesota Vikings to decide the division.
This game was a microcosm of Green Bay’s season, but with added issues thrown in. The passing game once again struggled, with receivers not getting open on their own, and being given little help in doing so schematically. Aaron Rodgers did not play well, contributing his own inaccuracy to the overall problems, but he was under assault all day from a Cardinals pass-rush that seemed to be meeting little or no resistance in the form of Green Bay’s pass-blocking.
Rodgers was sacked eight times, and pressured on 18 of his 38 dropbacks, and ultimately looked like the season had begun to catch up with him. For years with him under center the Packers offense has been the strength of the team, but this season it has been an issue
All five starters on the O-line surrendered pressure in this game, and Josh Walker, who came off the bench, chipped in another five in just 26 snaps. Rodgers may be able to combat the weaknesses in the receiving corps, especially if running back Eddie Lacy is playing well, but he has no chance if the pass-blocking deserts him as it did in this game.
Lacy, for his part, looked OK when he saw the ball, but the game went away from Green Bay so early he only saw it 12 times as a rusher with the team playing catchup all day.
On the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay actually didn’t hold up too badly, with a couple of notable exceptions. That seems ridiculous for a team that allowed the opposition to put up 38 points on the board, but the Packers offense was so bad they were put in bad spots all game, and the Cardinals were able to isolate the weaknesses and exploit them.
Linebacker Jake Ryan looked out of his depth, and the Cardinals matched him up in space in the passing game with rookie running back David Johnson on a couple of occasions, which netted 44 yards. Linebacker generally was a problem, with Ryan, Nick Perry, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Joe Thomas Jr. all grading negatively. Only Mike Neal escaped a negative grade, and just barely — with a 0.0 mark for the day.
Despite two rookies playing the majority of defensive snaps as two of their top three corners, the secondary wasn’t a major problem for the Packers. But this is a defensive unit that is good enough to hold its own when the offense is playing well — not a defense that is good enough to carry the team when it is not.
The Packers have clinched a playoff spot already, and all that remains is the second game against Minnesota to decide whether they win the NFC North and will host a playoff game, or travel on the road for their first postseason action, but more importantly for the team they need to fix a multitude of problems to have any hope of winning the game in either scenario.
The Cardinals are one of the league’s better teams, so to lose to them is not in and of itself a huge problem. However, the manner of the loss, and the trend over the past few weeks for the Packers is cause for great concern.
Green Bay will be playing playoff football, but on current evidence it doesn’t look like it will be for long.