When the Green Bay Packers placed Eddie Lacy on injured reserve, it signaled a significant change in how the offense would operate going forward. With new faces dotting the backfield -- newly acquired running back Knile Davis and undrafted rookie Don Jackson joined the roster this week -- as well as wideouts Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb, the Packers already figured to pass more often than normal. A matchup with the poor pass defense of the Chicago Bears only seemed to confirm those inclinations.
But whatever post-Lacy run/pass balance head coach Mike McCarthy had in mind went out the window once Don Jackson left Thursday night's game with a hand injury, leaving the still-green Davis as the only healthy "true" tailback.
With no real running game to lean on, the Packers effectively abandoned it, ultimately attempting an astounding 56 passes for a franchise-record 39 completions. Throwing so frequently usually indicates that something has gone horribly wrong. While the lack of a workhorse back certainly qualifies, Green Bay managed to make the most of a bad situation and secure a 16-point victory.
The Packers saw both the good and the bad of 2016 Aaron Rodgers and the aerial attack against the Bears. For much of the first half, receivers struggled to get open. When they did, Rodgers often missed them while looking in another direction. Rodgers did throw Cobb open in the end zone twice, but the receiver couldn't hold onto the pass on the first and failed to land both feet in the field of play on the second. Those near hits greatly skewed the halftime score (6-3 rather than 14-3) and contributed to Rodgers' less-than-pedestrian 5.8 yards per attempt.
Things picked up for the Packers somewhat during the second half, though not immediately. On the team's first possession, the Bears strip-sacked Rodgers before recovering the ball in the end zone for their first and only touchdown. The fumble continues an alarming trend for Rodgers, who entered the game with five on the season.
However, Rodgers settled down soon thereafter, throwing fewer bad passes and taking advantage of the easier throws McCarthy schemed up with crossing routes, motion, and receivers coming out of the backfield. Rodgers also found a rhythm with Davante Adams, who led all receivers with 13 catches and 132 yards. He also hauled in two scores, including one off an end-zone fade that required Adams to work through defender De'Vante Bausby to secure the ball.
Certainly, not all is well with the Packers offense. The chunk plays that once occurred with regularly remain noticeably absent save for the odd pass-interference penalty, and a wide receiver led the team in rushing for a game. However, when forced into a corner, the team found a way to move the ball and take care of business.
Bounce-back game for Gunter
During last week's 30-16 demolishing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, no defender endured more embarrassment than cornerback LaDarius Gunter. Near the end of the first half of that game, Gunter gave up two big completions including one for a score that gave Dallas its first double-digit lead. The second-year man continued to struggle the rest of that afternoon, giving up completion after completion.
Yet on a short week of rest, Gunter upped his game and all but shut down Alshon Jeffery, one of the league's top wideouts.
In a game where the Packers' lacked any of their top-3 corners, Gunter delivered the goods. The Bears targeted the young corner early, throwing in his direction on their first two passes. However, Gunter maintained strong positioning on both plays and did not yield a catch. He held firm until his fifth target, and gave up little after that.
When the Packers return in Week 8 to take on the Atlanta Falcons, they should have Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins back in the lineup. However, Gunter has earned the chance for more snaps with his performance on Thursday.
Mini-bye gives Packers second chance to self scout
When the Packers returned from their Week 4 bye to play the New York Giants, many understandably expected the offense to return to form given the extra time allotted to the coaching staff. Instead, Green Bay produced a mere 23 points against a wayward defense, leading to more questions. The 16-point showing against the Cowboys only served to exacerbate those concerns.
Now, with 10 days to prepare for the Falcons, the Packers have the opportunity to do what they failed to accomplish during their real bye week: figure out how to fix their remaining offensive issues.
The Packers still don't have a reliable way to generate explosive plays, with defensive pass interference serving as their only substitute in most of their outings this season. Young deep threats like rookie Trevor Davis have not received many opportunities on offense, something that may have to change in order to restore some semblance of big play potential to the offense. Likewise, the team needs to figure out what to do if Jackson miss time with his hand injury and what sort of role Knile Davis should assume once he learns the playbook.
While the Packers will likely enter next week's game as an underdog, they have a shot to secure a victory if they find ways to fix at least some of these problems. Given that four of the next five games take them on the road, they may ultimately need to take advantage of the extra prep time and win in order to qualify for the postseason.