There are sure signs of bad NFL football teams – things that they all have, for the most part, in common.
These teams make stupid mistakes, including committing a inordinate amount of penalties. They are not disciplined. Defensively, they are bad – typically against the run, which allows their opponents to get into a comfort zone and consistently find themselves in second or third-and-short situations. Bad teams don’t run the ball or control the clock. Finally, many bad teams get hit with injuries and find themselves thin at key positions.
The Detroit Lions are a bad team. The Kansas City Chiefs are a bad team. The Cincinnati Bengals are a bad team. The St. Louis Rams are a bad team.
The Green Bay Packers are a bad team.
After journeying back to Lambeau Field on Sunday, it became clear that all of these things are true about our football team, the beloved Green Bay Packers.
The Packers continue to commit their share of boneheaded penalties, and yes, at times it seems like they’re getting jobbed by the refs. However, I suspect there are fans from 31 other NFL teams who feel the same way. The bottom line is this: the Packers are second in the NFL in the number of penalties committed through five weeks of the season, with 44.
That’s an average of almost nine penalties a game. What’s worse, is that when it comes to penalty yardage, the Packers lead the league, having lost 419 yards to player error. In average, the team loses about 84 yards of field position per game to penalties.
The lack of discipline apparently stretches to general assignments, as well.
In assessing his run defense, McCarthy brought up a weakness he has identified before: trying to do too much. Instead of focusing just on their own assignments, players in the front seven are leaving their areas to help others do their jobs.
The lack of discipline affects the integrity of the defense and results in a series like the one at the end of the game against the Falcons. The Packers needed to stop Atlanta on three running plays in order to get the ball back for a shot at tying the score, but the defense gave up gains of 1, 8 and 2 yards.
Which brings me to my next point: the Packers defense is bad, and their run defense is fucking atrocious.
Green Bay ranks 26th in total defense through five games, and 27th against the run. The teams below Green Bay in the rankings are St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City and Indianapolis. Indianapolis is the only one of those teams with a non-losing record, at 2-2.
The Green Bay defense is giving up 5.1 yards per carry and 161 yards per game to opponents, and the trend is getting worse. In the last three games (Dallas, Tampa Bay, Atlanta), the Green Bay defense has surrendered an average of 190 yards per game.
On the flip side, the Packers running game hasn’t found its way this season. Although Ryan Grant seemed to flash some of the skill that got him a big contract this offseason on Sunday versus Atlanta (18 carries, 83 yards), Green Bay is averaging a meager 95.6 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
The sum of these parts is a team that ranks 21st in time of possession. Without the group of sure handed receivers the Packers have and the controlled passing game of Mike McCarthy’s offense, that ranking would be abysmal.
Finally, although it’s no excuse, the Packers have had their share of injuries – something that didn’t affect the team last year en route to a 12-4 finish. Starting cornerback Al Harris, safety Atari Bigby and center Scott Wells have missed significant time, along with third receiver James Jones. Starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins is on injured reserve, and former first-round draft choice Justin Harrell hasn’t played a game all season.
The silver lining in all of this doom and gloom is the Packers defense can only get better when Bigby, Harris and Harrell return. The question is, will it be in time?
This is a season teetering on the edge of disaster. While the Packers next two opponents, Seattle and Indianapolis, are not what they once were and are also banged up, both games are away from Lambeau Field, both opponents have solid rushing attacks and both games are very winnable for the home team.
Injuries can’t be controlled, but the Packers lack of discipline, poorly executed game plans, inability to commit to the running game, and perhaps even game planning that doesn’t adequately address their strengths and weaknesses – these are things that must be laid at the coach’s feet.
While these problems persist, this year’s incarnation of the Green Bay Packers is nothing more than a below average NFL team, that could well be 2-5 heading into their bye week.