Anytime the Green Bay Packers drop a game, it creates any number of schisms among the media and fans. That applies doubly for losses within the NFC North, such as Sunday night's 17-14 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings.
Even without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings look like a more-than-capable foil to the Packers in 2016. Just as importantly, Green Bay's offense remains broken, unable to efficiently move the ball or generate points as it once did.
Why have the Packers continued to struggle offensively? Multiple factors play a part, but none more so than the man under center.
Aaron Rodgers is still playing the worst football of his career
The 2015 season seemed like an anomaly for Rodgers, who posted career lows in completion percentage (60.7) and yards per attempt (6.68) while immersed in a struggling and oft-injured offense.
The two games Rodgers has played this season fall far short of the cutoff for a decent sample size to judge the numbers. However, he continues to make many of the same physical mistakes that plagued him a year ago.
Despite working from clean pockets in most instances, Rodgers too often bails, forcing the entire offense to adjust back to him. Such improvisation has made him one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but he simply cannot break the play design as often as he has of late, especially when the situation does not warrant it. Rodgers also cannot seem to place the football in a dime as he once did, even on short throws behind the line of scrimmage. Such inaccuracy short-circuited a handful of drives over the first two weeks of the season.
Certainly, Rodgers doesn't deserve all the blame. Jordy Nelson's return has not created the open windows for the rest of the receiving corps as many expected, and head coach Mike McCarthy has not utilized his personnel as creatively as he has in the past.
Ultimately though, the Packers' fate depends more on Rodgers performing like an MVP than anything else. Since the end of the 2014 season, he hasn't, and the team cannot expect to climb out of its malaise until that changes.
Stefon Diggs: The best receiver in the NFC North
By the end of last season, Stefon Diggs has taken over as the lead wideout in the Vikings offense. That probably said more about the team's receiving corps than Diggs, who only had to beat out the likes of Mike Wallace (since released), Jarius Wright (inactive for every game thus far in 2016), and Charles Johnson (the oft-injured former seventh-round pick of the Packers). Still, Diggs looked like a player on the rise after catching 52 passes for 720 yards in just 13 appearances.
Yet that hardly prepared anyone -- perhaps even the Vikings -- for Diggs' ascendance in 2016. Through two weeks, he leads all NFL players in receiving yards (285) and ranks among the league's best in yards per reception (17.8). On Sunday, he finished just 28 receiving yards shy of Minnesota's single-game record. And Diggs does more than put up numbers. Diggs slips through coverages with ease, creating wide-open windows for his quarterback. His play has even garnered comparisons to All-Pro Antonio Brown, and justifiably so. Right now, Diggs ranks as the best and most dangerous receiver in the NFC North.
That represents a major problem for the Packers and the rest of the division. Diggs joining the always-open club places an even greater premium on quality cover men. Green Bay remains without the services of Sam Shields until he clears the concussion protocol, and even promising youngsters like Damarious Randall have little chance of containing the star receiver on their own. As the Vikings transition from the Adrian Peterson-led ground attack of yesteryear into an aerial assault, Diggs should only become more prominently featured on the field and in the nightmares of opposing coaches.
Green Bay's run defense didn't backslide in Week 2
While the Green Bay offense wanders in the wilderness, its counterpart has quietly enjoyed a solid start to the season, particularly against the run.
In two games, the Packers have given up just 78 yards on the ground at a 1.6 clip. The latter figure also matches the average for Adrian Peterson, who looked completely ineffective throughout Sunday's game. For a unit that finished No. 19 by DVOA in rush defense in 2015, that represents incredible year-to-year growth.
Of course, that success comes with caveats. The Jaguars and Vikings run out two of the worst offensive lines in football and both played significant portions of their games against the Packers from behind. Those game situations usually result in fewer called runs, which can affect the box score.
Still, the fact Minnesota basically abandoned the ground game during the first half signifies how well Green Bay stuffed the run. Consider too that between Letroy Guion's knee injury and Mike Pennel's suspension, the team had four full-time defensive linemen available. Yet the Packers still kept the Vikings from breaking anything longer than a 12-yard run.
The Packers can't maintain that level of play throughout the season. Their remaining opponents have better rushing attacks and better offensive linemen. Still, Dom Capers defense has made meaningful strides two seasons in a row while working with mostly young players. The unit looks capable of carrying the team through its offensive woes, at least for a while.