For the second straight week, the Green Bay Packers find themselves traveling back to Wisconsin with another loss on their record. Once again, the defeat came at the hands of an undefeated team, somewhat clouding the perception of where Green Bay stands at this point in the season.
While a reasonable debate exists as to the exact nature of the Packers' problems, there are some things that seem more concrete heading into Week 10.
Green Bay should install James Starks as the lead back
Even if Eddie Lacy heals from the groin injury that knocked him out of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, his play has dipped significantly in 2015. Lacy currently averages a paltry 3.7 yards per carry, a drop-off of nearly a full yard from last year's clip. The third-year tailback has also become less of a factor in the passing game.
Conversely, James Starks has demonstrated improvement in both of these areas. Even with sometimes spotty run blocking, Starks averages 4.3 yards per attempt and has become a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield. His 19 receptions nearly double Lacy's total, and Starks demonstrated again Sunday that he can turn screen passes into huge gains. The offense operates smoother with him on the field, which is enough of a reason to make the switch until Lacy reclaims his All-Pro form.
The O-line has stymied the offense as much as the receivers
For all the deserved criticism the Packers' pass catchers have received, the offensive line is due at least a comparable amount of blame. For the third consecutive game, Aaron Rodgers had few clean pockets to step into, resulting in many broken plays and wild scrambles, not to mention a fumble. While Rodgers possesses the ability to succeed in those situations, such is hardly a recipe for sustained success.
In particular, the interior of Green Bay's line needs to return to form. The normally reliable Corey Linsley had a poor showing against the Panthers, drawing a flag while also getting put on skates too often in pass protection. Even Josh Sitton, perhaps the best guard in the league, whiffed on a block that led directly to a sack.
The good news for Green Bay is the track record of the three starting interior linemen suggests that they can rebound between now and the end of the regular season.
The quarterback made mistakes, too
While the Packers' quarterback evades blamed when things go wrong -- and often justifiably so -- he played a significant role in how things unfolded in Carolina. The headline mistake was missing a wide-open Randall Cobb on the team's final offensive snap, a well-run pick play that freed the wideout at the goal line. However, Rodgers faltered in other ways during the game as well.
For the first time in awhile, Rodgers' ball placement has looked shaky on routine throws. He threw passes to the feet of receivers on some out-routes, missed wide on a badly needed Davante Adams comeback pattern and overthrew a few deep balls along the boundary.
Rodgers should get this corrected in short order, most likely against the woeful Detroit Lions next Sunday. However, until he does the passing game will continue to suffer.