As we, the Acme Packing Company staff, watched the Denver Broncos dismantle the Green Bay Packers' offense on Sunday Night, most of us had warring opinions in our minds about the greater meaning of the events of the game.
While our emotional sides are telling us that it's time to start freaking out about the offense's inability to move the ball, the more rational parts of our personalities are fighting back to remind us that this was just a single game and that the Packers are still 6-1 and in the lead in the NFC North and will be no worse than one game behind the top team in the conference after week eight.
Which side of your brain is winning out at this point? Let us know in the comments what you think, and tell us whose takes you agree or disagree with.
To me, the most frustrating thing to watch in last night's debacle in Denver was the ineptitude of the Packers' passing game. In a way, I have become somewhat numb to the poor tackling and coverage that the defense displayed last night, but seeing an Aaron Rodgers-led passing attack finish under 100 yards was, in a word, shocking.
I think the offense missed Ty Montgomery last night. The Packers have had some success in recent weeks when they trotted out both Montgomery and Randall Cobb, putting one in the slot and the other in the backfield. That helped draw some favorable matchups with one or both of them, which Rodgers was able to take advantage of. With the rookie inactive, Green Bay seemed content to just trot out their typical three-wide sets, barely ever mixing up their personnel. Hell, I thought I would be the last person on Earth to be clamoring for Jeff Janis, but giving him a couple of snaps with the starting offense couldn't have hurt.
All in all, though, remember that good teams sometimes get wake-up calls - think New England at Kansas City last year. Admittedly, this was a bad performance, but it was against a really good team, in their building, and on a night in which said opponent was emotionally charged for a variety of reasons. If there's a time to lose a game, it's under those circumstances against a team from the other conference. In total, this reminds me a lot of last year's Buffalo game, just against a much better opponent. After that game, the Packers won out to earn the NFC North title and a playoff bye, then played well in a win over Dallas and were fantastic for 57 minutes in Seattle. In other words, now is not the time to freak out. Let's wait and see what happens against Carolina before we start jumping off bridges, but at the same time, it's okay to be uncomfortable about next Sunday.
In a vacuum, a loss to the Broncos doesn't represent a huge blow to the Packers, who remain undefeated in the NFC and can regain the top spot in the conference with a win over the Panthers next week. However, the manner in which Green Bay lost on Sunday raises any number of questions, not least of which is whether the aerial attack can ever get off the ground.
Aaron Rodgers finished the game with 77 passing yards, the worst mark of his career for a game he both started and finished. Once again, the receivers struggled to create separation from defenders, leaving Rodgers to dance around until a dump off option presented itself. Further complicating matters, the Packers' offensive line didn't give its quarterback much room to operate, resulting in many off-balance throws. Denver's defense has that effect on every one of their opponents, but Green Bay should still have performed better.
Similarly, the running game offered little reason for confidence. Eddie Lacy did find his way to the end zone, but he managed just 38 yards on 11 attempts. The concerns about his poor play this season -- and the ongoing questions about his conditioning -- certainly weren't dispelled by Sunday's performance. Again, the Broncos' run defense is as stout as any in the league, but a supposedly elite tailback like Lacy should average more than 3.5 yards per carry regardless of opponent.
That said, it probably isn't time to fly off the handle if you're a Packers fan. The team has endured slumps before and fought their way out. However, if Green Bay doesn't figure out its problems on offense within the next two weeks, the five-letter word that starts with a P will certainly set in.
Dom Capers and the defense are going to catch hell today for giving up their second straight 500-burger and deservedly so - that's a lot of yards! But my biggest concern with this team is the offense because my god were they butt last night. There's always going to be the argument in a beatdown like this whether the loss was just a loss, or whether it signifies ‘Bigger Problems' and while I think most of the Packers issues will correct themselves - like Davante Adams and James Jones still not looking healthy - there was one biggie last night that worries me: Coaching.
I could avert my eyes long enough to look past the Andy Reid-esque clock management and ridiculous decision to concede the game by punting with 7:00 minutes left, but the offensive game plan - and unwillingness to adjust - was Mike McCarthy at his worst. Hell, I actually turned on baseball at one point.
I get that Aaron Rodgers is a magician wizard phantom in the pocket, but it was clear from the get-go that the Broncos pass rush was going to be a problem - especially with Green Bay's receivers getting locked up in man coverage. And yet, Rodgers was still asked to perform a capoeira routine every time he dropped back. It was a stubborn approach and a far cry from this season's Seattle game that saw the offense switch gears to a dink-and-dunk strategy when the Seahawks took away the sidelines and seams. That game showed the kind of creativity and flexibility that makes this offense one of the deadliest in the league. Last night showed a team that looked lost and one-dimensional. Would more pick plays or bubble screens have kept the Packers in it? Who knows. But even with 500 yards of offense, Denver still only scored 29 points. A decent number, but not the kind of score that should ever feel out of reach. At worst, last night should have been a shootout between the two best quarterbacks of their eras. Instead, it was the old dog that dominated, proving that you don't need new tricks when you're not tied to a leash.
A lot of pundits, myself included, have made fun of the Seattle offense this year as juvenile, lacking any coherent philosophy, and basically just Russell Wilson running around until he finds someone open. What exactly is the Packers offense right now? When was the last time anyone ran a slant? I think the league has figured out the "throw it to Cobb and let him beat a guy one-on-one play" at this point. This offense is "let Aaron buy time and maybe someone will run open", and that is not a real offense.
Losing to the Broncos is fine. They're very good, especially on defense. I'm much more concerned with the absolutely pathetic showing on offense. Keep in mind the Packers' lone touchdown drive was absurdly assisted by penalties. I understand that Jordy Nelson isn't walking through that door and Cobb is ailing, but this isn't a passing offense in the conventional sense. At some point you need to trust the young guys to run the right routes and know what they're doing, and maybe endure the occasional interception as a result. There were some problems defensively too, in particular the Broncos doing some excellent work to get Demaryius Thomas singled up on Casey Hayward, but they were also banged up. They'll be fine (if Clay Matthews' injury isn't too serious).
An Aaron Rodgers offense should never look like that. I've said McCarthy is the best Monday-Saturday coach in football, but just about everything in this game was schemed incorrectly. This was just an awful game for the staff and for 12. It will be interesting to see how they react against the league's 2nd-best defense next week. Given that they had a full 2 weeks to prepare for this last game, I am not optimistic.
This is the wake up call that I believe many of us knew was bound to happen. As Jason alluded to, this was the best time to suffer a letdown. Not that it is ever good, but for it to happen against a quality AFC opponent on the road is far from the worst-case scenario. This team has been flawed on both sides of the ball for a good part of the season and it finally caught up to them.
Offensively, it is concerning to see the passing attack struggle to this extent. Yes, Denver has one of the best secondaries in the game, but there is no reason Rodgers should only throw for 77 yards. The lack of separation by the receivers combined with struggling pass protection make it next to impossible to find success. Perhaps their quick-strike game has been solved by defenses and the offense can't find an alternate way to attack.
The defense has been bending and bending all season. Last night they finally broke. Manning shredded the secondary with ease, as the corners could not lock up coverage all game. I am starting to think the 500-yard performance by Rivers two weeks ago was no fluke. The back end of this defense is very young and starting to experience some growing pains.
As I mentioned in the preview leading up to this game, the quarterback who is allowed the time to make plays will win this game. That is exactly what happened as Rodgers was dancing in the pocket on seemingly every dropback. Manning, on the other hand, had a game plan and was never forced to abandon it. I guess this is what happens when you give Peyton Manning two weeks to prepare for you. It will rarely end well.