Everything's kind of a mess, so rather than tee things up any more, let's get right to our thoughts on what was another poor showing from the Packers:
It took the Packers a full half of football before they began to scheme receivers open, which is two quarters too late against a team as good as the Panthers. However, what is equally troubling is the poor play of Green Bay's offensive line. Aaron Rodgers can and has generating plays out of nothing, but no quarterback can do so on every other down. Starting with the San Francisco game, Rodgers has rarely had clean pockets to step into, which has killed just as many plays as the receivers' collective inability to separate from defenders. The schedule certainly didn't help the team -- Denver and Carolina is back-to-back weeks is a tall ask for any club -- but the issue has popped up against weaker opponents as well.
Meanwhile, it's probably time for the Packers to install James Starks as the featured tailback even if Eddie Lacy's groin injury doesn't keep him out of next week's game. While Starks doesn't offer Lacy's power, he has given the offense far more juice in the passing game and offers more big-play potential. On an offense that features precious few playmakers, more work for Starks could give Green Bay a significant boost when the team returns to Lambeau next Sunday to take on the Lions.
What they need is route concepts invented after, say, 1959. https://t.co/PFu7iKo2xc
— Doug Farrar (@SI_DougFarrar) November 8, 2015
Mike McCarthy was a bad tactical game day coach. He didn't use timeouts properly, he was often wrong about punting, challenges, and all that jazz. That said, he was more often than not a brilliant strategic mind, and his gameplans were more often than not quite brilliant. The game against the Patriots last year was a high water mark for brilliant game-planning, execution, and absolutely outfoxing the NFL's best. I have no idea how much offensive coordinating Tom Clements is actually doing, but I think what we all hoped for this year was McCarthy-style playcalling, but improvements in those small tactical issues that seemingly plagued him forever. Instead, all of those problems still persist and the offensive playcalling has become terrible.
They woke up a bit in the second half creatively, which was nice to see. Slants, screens, and the occasional combo route all made appearances and mostly worked. I can't help wondering if someone on the sideline, be it Rodgers or McCarthy, got fed up and started looking in the back of the playbook. II also hope they remember this lesson when they (inevitably) encounter an elite defense in the postseason. It's a simple thing to out-execute the Bears, and there are a lot of Bear-esque defenses remaining on the schedule. I'm pretty sure they'll destroy the Lions next week and everyone will be oh so happy. I just hope the back half of this schedule doesn't get them right back in a rut. You can't just run your stuff against the likes of the Broncos and Panthers and make any progress, because they've seen it, they're super talented, and they know how to stop it. You have to fool them. Football is supposed to be about deception and game theory, and with any luck these two losses knock some sense into them.
I'm honestly still not concerned about the defense. They'll be fine.
I was curling during the second and third quarters of the game, and judging from the recaps and descriptions of the game I clearly didn't miss anything that was worth watching. The offense I saw when I got off the ice and resumed watching early in the fourth looked far more creative and reminiscent of the successful offense that the Packers ran in past years (and even early in the season). It's just a shame that it didn't show up until the Packers were already down three scores.
I'll just touch on a few individuals who did good things before I get to the bad stuff. I was impressed by Damarious Randall's ability to shake off the big plays he allowed early on in the game as he made that critical interception to give the offense a great chance to tie up the game. I was also happy to see James Starks get involved in the passing game, especially on screens when it was clear that the offensive line wasn't going to give Aaron Rodgers time to throw. Finally, it was nice to see the defense get a couple of run stops late in the game when they were absolutely necessary.
Now for the bad: The secondary was a train wreck in the first quarter, and apparently they were no better through the fourth. Seriously, how do you let guys like Jerrico Cotchery and Devin Funchess beat you for 50-plus yard gains? If it were Ted Ginn I would understand, because at least he is still really fast and we were missing our fastest corner in Sam Shields. Ultimately, I hope that Shields and Quinten Rollins return this week, because Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate could make it another long day for this defense if they can't get some consistent pressure on Matthew Stafford.
One final point: Aaron Rodgers being "scared" to throw the ball for some unknown reason seems to me to be like a pro golfer getting the yips. It's something that puts the player's entire game in question, but it's also something that can go away just as quickly as it appears. Certainly, if Rodgers doesn't know what went through his own head that prevented him from throwing the ball on time on fourth-and-goal, none of us will, but I'm confident it won't be a long-term issue.
We're at a point in the season where every team in the league is either flawed, shorthanded due to injury, or if you're the Lions, a hilarious combination of both. The Packers have had their share of bumps, bruises and outright injuries, but it's their flaws that have been far more glaring the last three weeks. The question is, can teams fix - or at least adjust for - these flaws by the time the playoffs roll around. With the Packers, I'm not so sure.
Mainly because many of the same flaws that we saw yesterday have been there for years: the questionable play calling, the lack of in-game adjustments, the inability to contain a mobile quarterback. Remind me if you've heard this before. There have certainly been other factors that have contributed to Packers losses over the years, but griping about those is a lot like complaining about the wilted lettuce on your side salad when what really sucks is the steak. These are core, fundamental issues that have consistently plagued the Packers ever since their Super Bowl run in 2010.
What makes seeing these flaws frustrating is we know what the other side looks like. At their best, this is a team that is sharp, and focused, and creative, and so dominant the only thing you can do is sit there and cackle like a deranged hyena. Yesterday was just a Week 9 regular season game so it's not the biggest deal ever, but it's a sobering reminder of what this team can look like at their worst. Sure, the comeback was fun and exciting. But all it does is mask the stink of what, if it weren't for the Panthers lack of effort in the last 17 minutes, a few whacko plays, and Aaron Rodgers turning into an X-Man in the 4th quarter, would've been the first time the Packers have lost by three-plus scores in consecutive games since 1988.
After the game, Rodgers attributed the comeback to them playing, "school-yard ball." Chucking the playbook and scheme to break out of a funk is always going to be needed here and there. But on the last play of the game - the one where the route was designed perfectly to spring Randall Cobb open - Rodgers reverted to the same dance-around-the-pocket-and-make-something-happen routine he's been doing almost all season. Sometimes that works. But sometimes, you need to trust the play call more than yourself. That Rodgers chose the latter in the most important moment of the game goes to show just how infrequently the former has worked this season.
(Editor's note: Adam was unavailable for a time after the game, but submitted this great comment after this piece was originally published.)
I would like to apologize to all for missing this week's Quick Outs. My performance (or lack thereof) was worse than Rodgers' sideline tablet.