In the lead up to the Green Bay Packers tilt with the Dallas Cowboys, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn wrote that the majority of the blame for the team's offensive woes fell on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In McGinn's view, Rodgers had fallen on bad mechanics, refused or ignored instruction from coaches, and broke the play design too often for the offense to hum as it did for many years.
At the time, that criticism fell on plenty of deaf ears among the team's fan base, and understandably so. Since 2010, Rodgers has given those fans a Super Bowl championship, two MVP seasons, and helped Green Bay qualify for the postseason every year. It seemed nothing short of a complete meltdown would convince those supporters that something was wrong.
Sunday's 30-16 loss proved to be just that. While Rodgers stat line -- 31 completions on 42 passes for 294 yards, one touchdown, and one interception -- suggests a mediocre day rather than a disastrous one, Rodgers played like a rookie quarterback in his first NFL start. He tossed an interception to a safety dropping into zone coverage, threw behind open receivers such as Richard Rodgers, and regularly forced Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery to dig passes out of the dirt rather than lead them for extra yardage. He also fumbled multiple times, losing one with the Packers mere yards away from the goal line.
When Rodgers made mistakes a year ago, injuries to his receiving corps and offensive line shielded him from much of the criticism. While others share in the blame -- namely head coach Mike McCarthy's refusal to implement more crossing patterns and rub routes -- Rodgers lacks that same insulation in 2016. He has played poorly for over a calendar year, and until that changes the Packers cannot expect their fortunes to improve.
Run defense implodes at worst time
The Packers' historic four-game stretch of allowing 50 rushing yards or fewer had to end at some point, and a matchup with Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys always appeared a likely streak breaker. However, the run defense didn't merely allow Elliott to run for 50 yards; the unit yielded 157 yards on 28 carries.
Even the worst defensive team in the league would feel disappointed in that effort, let alone Green Bay. The Cowboys offensive line owned the line of scrimmage, allowing Elliott to reach positive yardage before making contact with a defender on most of his attempts. The Packers threw multiple looks at Dallas hoping to find a solution, including shifting Clay Matthews inside for some early snaps in the base defense. None of it worked, and the unit's per-rush average fell from just under 2 yards to above 3.
At the same time, the poor showing doesn't mean the Packers' run defense was a fraud. The Cowboys possess the best running game in the league, the caliber of which Green Bay won't see again barring a postseason rematch. Against the rest of the league, the run defense should hold up as it did through the first four games of the season.
If the Packers can turn season around, this is when it tends to occur
Neither the Packers nor Rodgers can simply make a "relax" game happen, but those performances have usually occurred in situations such as the team now finds itself. They have little time to prepare for next Thursday's tilt with the Chicago Bears, but that also means they can more quickly move on from the disappointment.
The Bears entered Week 6 ranked in the middle of the pack offensively and defensively. Accordingly, the Packers cannot merely expect to steamroll them like they did the Detroit Lions in Week 3. But, with some smart game planning and a little luck on the injury report, a season-shifting performance isn't totally out of the realm of possibility.
Certainly, Rodgers has enjoyed some of his best games against Chicago, including a six-touchdown first half in 2014. Likewise, one of the best throws of the quarterback's career came during the division-deciding Week 17 matchup in 2013, a play etched in the memory of Packers and Bears fans alike.
At 3-2, a win on Thursday would set Green Bay up nicely for the mini-bye week and a pivotal road tilt with the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8. A loss would cast significant doubt on the Packers' ability to reach the postseason for the eighth consecutive year.