Sick of thinking about the Green Bay Packers' loss to the Arizona Cardinals yet? APC's writers are here to try to help make some sense of yesterday's debacle and how it sets up the Packers for an NFC North showdown next week against the Minnesota Vikings. Here's what we thought about Sunday's game.
Yesterday's is what happens to the 2015 Packers when they do not have their running game functioning early against an excellent team. The passing game has no room to function, the opposing team jumps out to a two-possession lead, the running game is thrown by the wayside, and opposing pass-rushers are able to rush Aaron Rodgers with abandon.
The blueprint for a halfway decent defense to beat this Packers squad is painfully simple, and has been ever since the bye week. With the Vikings and Mike Zimmer's defense being mostly healthy next Sunday, the prospect of the Packers losing all three home divisional games seems quite likely.
At this point, the health of the offensive line is as problematic as the Packers' receivers inability to separate from coverage. With Don Barclay and Josh Walker in the game at tackle, Rodgers had little chance, especially when they were given no help on the outside against the likes of Calais Campbell and Dwight Freeney. But why don't they get help? Because the Packers can't count on their receivers to win one-on-one battles, so they have to send out four and five receivers on routes on every play.
It's really a brutal, vicious cycle, and there's not likely to be any fixing it in 2015.
The defense at least put up a performance that was almost identical to that of the week prior in Oakland, and did so against a better offense. Look at the numbers and you'll see that they're almost identical - 381 total yards this week compared to 372 a week ago; 260 vs. 252 passing and 121 to 120 rushing; and two turnovers in each game. The final point total allowed was close as well - 24 points scored by Arizona's offense to the 20 that Oakland put up.
In past years, that would have been enough for the Packers to win, since their offense would have been able to move the ball and score even on the best defenses. That is not the case this year. They can win those games against mediocre teams, and they might be able to pull out a win that way at home against a decent team like Minnesota next week, but doing it against high-level competition on the road seems impossible.
The fact of the matter is the outcome of Sunday's game doesn't seem surprising. The Arizona Cardinals have long looked like the superior team, and the Green Bay Packers haven't put together a complete game since sometime during the first quarter of the season. At this stage, a strong effort from Green Bay against a playoff-bound club seems almost unthinkable.
In that way, next week's NFC North-deciding tilt against Minnesota Vikings feels like the Packers' Super Bowl. They don't look like a team that can compete for the real thing, but they can keep their streak of division crowns intact while forcing one of their rivals to play road warrior in the postseason. Such an ending falls short of the team's preseason expectations, but those expectations no longer hold relevance after a year's worth of injuries and shortcomings.
This is more or less what I thought would happen. Well, less actually. The Packers aren't this bad and it would even be fair to describe them as "good", but with this roster and the huge holes on it, they can't compete with the top level teams. Sometimes an underpowered squad can scheme their way into a more competitive game, but Mike McCarthy simply isn't going to outcoach Bruce Arians. No one is. Arians saw the obvious Packer weaknesses and had his charges pound them there again and again.
But even though I fully expected the Packers to be annihilated in this game, it still makes me sadder than a loss usually would. An individual loss hits me in that visceral, emotional way that it hits everyone, but after five minutes of thinking rationally about it I'm usually back to normal. This one was different because it basically proved that the Packers are pretenders. They are woefully understaffed in a few key areas and the only way to upgrade the team is to upgrade the personnel in those areas. They can sometimes hide their issues against lesser teams, but the Arizona's of the world will have none of it, and in the playoffs you tend to face a lot of the Arizona's of the world. This loss basically ended any hope I have of a fluky Super Bowl run. They are what they are at this point, and Andre Rison isn't walking through that door.
It is extra frustrating because of the nature of their offensive problems. Their issues are almost entirely created by lack of wide receiver and tight end talent. The offensive line has occasionally been terrible as well, but if they had better wide receivers Rodgers could get the ball out faster and mitigate some of those issues. As a general rule it's better to suck a lot at one position than it is to suck a little at every position. The reason for this is that in the first scenario, you can gain a substantial upgrade in production through few positional upgrades whereas in the second scenario you need to replace a lot of players to gain a substantial upgrade. The Packers would be much better with just slightly better receivers. They could instantly be contenders with a Jordy Nelson-level talent. Those guys are few and far between, and NFL trades are rarer still, but having on big obvious hole and failing to fill it is ridiculous.
Now, in honor of Aaron Rodgers' passing yardage total, time for some of this:
Until yesterday, the 2015 Packers were a tough team to crack in terms of their overall potential. Were they merely an underachieving version of their former selves, just a few plays, coaching decisions or breaks away from regaining their previous form? Or were they a team whose record beguiled how good they actually were, getting fat on even worse teams, but falling - sometimes spectacularly so - to the league's elite? Now we know that answer.
I suppose in a way most of us already knew it, but what surprised me yesterday was just how vast the chasm appears to be. The Packers weren't just beaten, they were out-everything'd, resulting in the most decisive, all-encompassing loss of the Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy era. There have certainly been low points over the last seven years - last year's NFC Championship, Colin Kaepernick running amok in 2013, etc. - but none felt quite like this. None felt like the problems the team had were at the foundation, cracked and crumbling and nearing a state of irreparability. If body language and facial expressions were the only indication you had of how good the Packers were, you'd think they were a four-win team. Amazingly, their true selves might be closer to that win total than the 10 that appears in the standings.
Even more amazingly though is the guy at the center of this grease fire: Aaron Rodgers. Certainly, Rodgers is a victim of his own impossibly high standards he's set, so maybe it's unfair to keep expecting him to turn water into wine - a feat only slightly more magical than Davante Adams' incredible disappearing act this season. But when you're the consensus Best Quarterback in the Land, them's the breaks. Cam Newton is doing it in Carolina. Brady in New England. Rodgers meanwhile, has essentially been Kirk Cousins with a larger bank balance.
Maybe Rodgers is still injured - save for the Hail Mary in Detroit that sailed damn near to Flint, I haven't seen him really pepper a ball in awhile - and if that's the case, at least we have a reason for why the Packers look so hopelessly lost. At least we have this offseason for Rodgers to get healthy, physically, maybe even mentally. And at least we have next year, which should see the return of Jordy Nelson. But that sounds familiar, doesn't it? Just last January, it was next year when we would see the Packers avenge their loss in Seattle by taking the league by storm. Now it's this year and we're talking about next year. A sad state of affairs, but also a good reminder than in the NFL, there is no next year, there is only this year. And unfortunately, this year looks totally shot.
Anyone who was surprised by the outcome against an elite team has been lying to themselves all year. The Packers are sitting at 10 wins because wins over marginal-at-best teams: Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, San Diego, Detroit, Dallas, etc. Even those wins were far from pretty. Games like yesterday are what happens when the Packers play legit contenders: outplayed in Denver and Carolina, now in Arizona.
Too many times this season the Packers seem to just pack it up early when they get down. This offense has no chance of playing catch-up when all 11 players on defense know a pass is coming. Their worst performances have come when they were forced to abandon the run early. A patchwork line with two backup tackles stands no chance against a relentless pass rush.
In the spirit of being optimistic, yesterday's game seemed like a snowball effect at best. The defense started out well, forcing punts on their first two drives. After allowing 10 points on consecutive drives, Mike Daniels picked off a screen pass and gave the offense a red zone look. Not too bad so far, all things considered. Then Rodgers throws a pick in the end zone and Arizona marches off an 80-yard drive to put Green Bay in free fall before the half. This team is not capable of battling back from a three-possession deficit. Opponents know all too well how to defend the pass, especially when there is no threat to run.
From there Starks fumbles, and two plays later it is 24-0. Game over. For the rest of the game, a play is only catastrophic if has an effect beyond this game. Low and behold, Bulaga goes down, and two strip-sacks returned for scores come as a result of inadequate replacements on the line being completely overmatched.
At this point, I am not sure the outcome of Week 17 against the Vikings is a huge deal. Sure, we want to see the Pack keep their spot at the top of the division, but a win would mean a rematch in the Wild Card round. Do you know how hard it is to beat the same team three times in a season? I've heard it's not easy. On the flip side, a Week 17 loss means a road game against Washington to start the playoffs. Is one situation really that much better than the other? It's a toss-up in my opinion. I am anxious to see how the next two weeks play out, but my expectations and optimism are gone.