This week, APC’s Walkthroughs piece throws a bit of a wet blanket on the Green Bay Packers’ 2017 start. Therefore, a few of our authors decided this week to comment on things that they find disappointing or concerning about the early part of the season.
Each individual was asked to provide something specific; just saying “LOTS OF INJURIES ARE BAD” is far too broad and can be assumed at this point. After taking a flip through these discussions, let us know in the comments about what on-field item is most concerning to you about the first three weeks of the season.
Shawn Wagner: Use of the tight ends
Injuries and the play of cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have been well-documented. So I’m going to go a little off the grid and voice dissatisfaction with Green Bay’s use of its two newest tight end acquisitions.
When the Packers signed Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks in the offseason, many, including me, assumed Green Bay’s offense would reap enormous benefits - benefits that Green Bay has lacked in the passing game in recent seasons and benefits that have led to consistent success for the New England Patriots. So far, I’ve been very underwhelmed.
Bennett has a quiet 11 receptions in 21 targets for 102 yards this season. He’s been credited with two drops officially, but has a number of additional close calls. Meanwhile, Kendricks has four catches for 70 yards with 51 of those yards coming on one play last week. I imagined Green Bay targeting the duo on intermediate patterns, especially in the middle of the field on third down, but thus far it has been a lot of short slants and out patterns in tightly contested situations. Neither player is a burner, but there seemed to be a lot more of a vertical threat with the duo than what Green Bay had in Richard Rodgers alone. Yet, both tight ends have been utilized in that role far less than expected. Each could certainly help the red zone offense, as seen in the preseason, but the Packers’ opportunities there have been few and far between so far in the regular season.
Perhaps Aaron Rodgers, who depends a lot on his trust of receivers, is still warming up to his new weapons. Both have been fairly reliable blockers in space to help the run game and yards after catch. But with Randall Cobb injured and the offensive tackle injuries mounting, Rodgers and company could benefit greatly from targeting the tight ends more and with routes that allow them greater space to produce.
Evan “Tex” Western: Why isn’t Mike McCarthy helping Aaron Rodgers with his playcalls?
One of the things that I have struggled with so far this season is the Packers’ and Mike McCarthy’s apparent unwillingness to protect their quarterback with playcalling. With so many injuries at offensive tackle, the Packers have been forced to start players like Kyle Murphy (now on IR with an injury of his own) and Justin McCray on the ends of the offensive line.
Logically, my brain says that if you have your fifth and sixth options at tackle starting in front of a two-time MVP quarterback, you should actively help that quarterback take as few hits as possible with your gameplans and playcalling. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, call quick passes to have Aaron Rodgers get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Where are the quick slants? Where are the hitch routes or the combo routes designed to scheme players open quickly? These should be a staple of a short passing offense anyway, but they are even more critical when it comes to limiting the contact on the quarterback. The other option is to call more rollouts and bootlegs to help move the pocket around. Rodgers is one of the more athletic quarterbacks in the league and he throws on the run better than anyone; I’d like to see the pocket move, slowing down the rush a bit due to the threat of his legs as well as his arm.
Instead, the Packers seem to continue to call deep drops consistently when they throw the ball, exposing Rodgers to big hits and forcing him to evade pass-rushers in the backfield. Call it a lack of creativity, call it stubbornness, call it whatever you want, but McCarthy seems once again unwilling to alter his offensive philosophy to adjust to the challenges facing him. We saw this problem rear its ugly head in 2015 when the receivers struggled to get open due to injuries and Jordy Nelson’s absence; now it’s threatening to get Rodgers hurt if the injuries at tackle continue.
Bob Fitch: Usage of Ty Montgomery
I touched on this topic in my film review of the Atlanta game, but I am disappointed in the offense’s usage of Ty Montgomery out of the backfield. We’ve seen him be a gamebreaker when the ball is in his hands, but it hasn’t been there often enough.
Tex brings up a broader point of playcalling to help your quarterback stay upright. In addition to shorter routes and additional protections, the use of HB screens take advantage of a pass rush that gets to the QB in a hurry. Monty’s been successful with each screen opportunity so far, and I’d really like to see that part of his game enhanced.
Additionally, it is concerning to see your running back on the field for so many snaps. Perhaps it’s an indication of the trust level (or lack thereof) the Packers staff has with the backups, or simply wanting to have your best players on the field at all times, but the guy’s going to need a break at some point. It shows up in his pass blocking as well; the level of effort really hasn’t been there at times, as his chips seem like he is focused on being a release valve and not really helping the blocker. With your top 4 starting tackles injured, I’d rather see a trusted blocker in the backfield on third and long that can give Aaron ample time to take a longer drop back.
Paul Noonan: Ha Ha not hitting
I think 2016 may have broken Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. In that mess of a secondary, he was almost forced to be tentative because he was always being pulled in ten different directions by all of the poor play and blown assignments in front of him. The secondary is better this season, but Clinton-Dix often looks lost, and his lack of decisiveness has turned small gains into big plays several times this season.
Ha Ha's play to make. 3 yard gain becomes 20 yard gain. pic.twitter.com/Y0X7hpaj7Z— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 25, 2017
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been a special player in the past, but if the Packer defense is going to take a step forward, they need him to return to form. As it stands now, he can be picked on successfully.