The Green Bay Packers now have two weeks – fifteen days, actually – to analyze what went wrong and to fix it.
It shouldn’t be terribly difficult to pinpoint where the problems lie, as the Packers have not only one game in which darn near everything went wrong, they really now have two games in a row in which they were beaten by more than one score – by teams that are not exactly juggernauts. The New Orleans Saints came into Sunday’s game ranked 18th in pass defense.
You’ve probably seen where coach Mike McCarthy took the blame for Sunday’s implosion.
“(Hundley) tried to do a little too much… but he’s competitive. He made some big-big plays with his feet. …he needs to stay focused on running the offense and try not to get outside of yourself… It’s a challenge I didn’t meet today… he didn’t get comfortable in the pocket… that’s my responsibility so, did a poor job coaching.”
Big Mike also elaborated that he was particularly disappointed with the second half. Asked what specific things: didn’t stop them on defense, didn’t have production in pass game, didn’t convert on third downs, some bad penalties.
I believe the second half letdown was both explainable and inevitable. The Packers’ defense was fatigued. They were on the field for 75 plays, versus 50 for the Saints’ defense. That’s 37 minutes compared to 23 minutes. And 485 yards versus 260 yards. It was the lack of first half offense by Green Bay that set up the poor second half. Even when the Packers momentarily took the lead in the fourth quarter, it was pretty clear that would be short-lived.
It was that first half, not the second half, that sealed the team’s fate. A record-tying no completions in the first quarter, and I believe only 56 passing yards at the half. That’s not a record, as the Packers have finished with minus net passing yards at least five times, but it’s futility we’ve rarely seen in the last decade.
The half ended on a downer: five straight incompletions (one erased by a pass interference penalty by Richard Rodgers) and a missed 59-yard field goal attempt.
Big Mike mentioned the team had a great week of practice and he thought they had favorable matchups. If I were the coaches, I’d be reviewing those matchups. Yes, Martellus Bennett finally emerged as the leading receiver – too bad he led the team with only 17 yards. Green Bay’s big three receivers – who are just about the team’s only receivers – turned in these stats: Cobb, two of four, 15 yards; Nelson, one of four, 13 yards; and Adams, two of five for 12 yards. Forty yards for the big three – there’s your ballgame.
No one seems to be assigning much blame to Hundley. I agree. I didn’t see him missing wide-open receivers. He moved around well, and his three runs for 44 yards put his running ability on full display. When you’re in the open field, or close to the end zone, I like not taking a knee.
On Friday, I suggested five ways for Hundley to excel. That’s where my review would start.
#1. Make use of screen passes. Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery combined for four catches in seven throws – for 16 yards. The Packers have forgotten how to set up and execute these basic plays.
#2. Get Bennett involved. Didn’t happen: three throws, two catches, 17 yards.
#3. No huddle. It was barely used. McCarthy might be forgiven for not over-burdening Hundley in his first start, but as I pointed out, it’s a key to the success of Green Bay’s passing attack – and Hundley handled it quite well, without any practice, against Minnesota.
#4. Go deep or get beat. Well, there were a few deep or semi-deep throws, though none connected. I have to amend my theory, because when the Packers try but never come close to completing any deep balls, instead of keeping the defense honest they are signaling they have no deep pass capability, which only encourages defenders all the more to jump the short routes.
I had said that I’d love to see a downfield ball or two on a third and short. What instead happened was that the Saints defense – reading McCarthy’s ways – paid no attention to anything downfield, they just penetrated the line of scrimmage on third downs.
On the first one, Hundley tried to throw a quick pass to Adams, but rookie Marshon Lattimore smothered the play so completely he batted the pass down behind the line of scrimmage. On the second one, Montgomery, rather than Jones was in the backfield – the first mistake – and his tentative swing to the left was met three yards behind the line of scrimmage – by two defenders. These were two critical, but awful, play calls.
#5. Let Hundley run. Hundley had great success in his three runs. The first was on a 3rd-and-3 with five minutes left in the half, when he scrambled up the middle of the field for 22 yards, including eluding a safety who had him dead to rights.
The second was on a 3rd-and4, when Hundley quickly abandoned the pocket, went left, and crashed through two tacklers into the end zone for the Pack’s second touchdown.
Hundley finally was given a planned run, or option to run, with 3:29 left in the third quarter. On a 2nd-and-8, he put the ball in Aaron Jones’ gut, then pulled it out and swept wide for the first down.
So, two of the Packers third down successes (in 11 tries) came on impressive runs by the quarterback, and Hundley’s three runs were good for a touchdown, two more first downs, and 44 yards overall.
I have my doubts whether the coaching staff encouraged him to run when he got the chance, but they should do so – this team needs to utilize all of its strengths if they are to get some wins in Aaron Rodgers’ absence.
The Packers now have two weeks to fix things, before facing the Lions on a Monday night. The Lions don’t have the benefit of a bye week – they play the tough Steelers the week before.
Losing to the Saints and getting pummeled by Drew Brees is not cause for hopelessness. But the game against division rival Detroit – at Lambeau – strikes me as a must win.