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Washington loss continues Packers’ troubling trend of slow starts

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Once the hottest team in football to open games and halves, Green Bay has become too predictable and ineffective early in games.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
The Packers haven’t started games well enough on either side of the ball this season, a troubling trend going back to 2016.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Every week, some analyst on a football broadcast will wax poetic about a coach’s insistence that his team start fast. Just once, I’d love to hear him say, “You know, the coach told me he thinks starting slow is the way to go for us.”

Mike McCarthy has been the coach in question most of his career, and when this team is at its best, the fast starts have looked easy.

But they’ve been too few and far between lately, and that’s not just a 2018 problem. Green Bay had to fight its way back last season even with a healthy Rodgers, and before QB1 went full en fuego during the Run The Table stretch in 2016, the Packers struggled to get off to good starts.

The continuity and ease of this offense gave way to stagnation and wonky playcalling. Rodgers was off early in 2016, but turned it around. Even so, this trend is too obvious to ignore.

If we exclude RTT from 2016 (this has a purpose), include the early-season Rodgers play before the collarbone injury in 2017, and add the three games from 2018, that span is 18 games. Green Bay was down at halftime in 12 of those games, down by double-digits in seven. Luckily for the Packers, they had Aaron Rodgers and still managed to go 9-8-1 in those games despite the deficits at halftime, but just take a look at that record. Barely over .500 is not where a team with the best quarterback in football should be.

Let’s go back to 2016, when the Packers win eight straight (including a pair of playoff games) as part of the now-famous stretch run in 2016.

In those games, here were the halftime scores.

  • 14-10
  • 7-0
  • 21-3
  • 10-10
  • 28-13
  • 10-14
  • 14-6
  • 21-13

It’s a lot easier to go 8-0 when leading at halftime in seven of those games. This isn’t rocket science. The longer a team holds the lead, the later in to the game it retains that lead, the more likely it is to win.

In three games this season, the Packers have gone down 10-0 and 14-0 in first quarters. Last season, the Packers trailed 24-7 and 21-7 at halftime in two of the first three games. Such deficits reflect failures offensively and defensively. While Mike Pettine’s defenses have stiffened after early runs, Green Bay’s offense was unable to counter early enough to maintain any semblance of balance.

This problem is two-fold: the offense hasn’t scored early in games, and the defense has allowed early scores. That’s about as bad a combination as a team can have. Miracles from Aaron Rodgers aside, that part of this team has to get fixed.

Joe Philbin’s return, so far, hasn’t sparked the offense. Jimmy Graham is being asked to block in-line, Lance Kendricks plays ahead of Marcedes Lewis for ... reasons, and the offense refuses to play with four receivers or, God forbid, five.

Mike Pettine’s defense appears more creative and multiple, but hasn’t been consistently effective enough to this point. That can and likely will change as the players get more comfortable with it, but the obvious holes in personnel remain.

But with worse personnel and more ineffectual coordinators, the Packers did win a bunch of games at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 thanks to Rodgers. We’re seeing now, just as we did in the second half of last season, how reliant Green Bay is on Rodgers to be otherworldly in order to win games. It reflects McCarthy’s inability to make things easy for his offense when the quarterback isn’t operating at peak levels of efficiency. His defense has been getting killed early with unscouted looks and scripted plays. Where is the offensive guru we saw for so long early in his career, where opening drives were automatic and double-ups were the norm?

The defense will coalesce and play more consistently. Rodgers will presumably get healthier, Aaron Jones will get the carries he deserves, Kendricks will drop his way into more snaps for Lewis. This offense can and will play better. Geronimo Allison has been a revelation and Davante Adams is legitimately really good. Had Randall Cobb not left his hands in his hotel room, the Packers very well may have pulled out another game it had no business winning on Sunday in Washington, but there have been too many of those of late.

Sunday’s loss represents an institutional failure, one that runs from the top of the organization to the bottom, from the front office to coaches and players. Everyone has to do a better job or this will be yet another lost season, one wasting the talents of the league’s best player.