The Packers' offense continued to struggle in an eventual 23-21 loss to the Washington Commanders, giving them their third straight loss. The execution was lacking again a week after the theme became one of keeping things simple and not too complex. In this one, the Packers could not even do the simple things that a team needs to do to win games.
The Packers were 0-6 on third downs and 0-1 on fourth down. At the end of the game, Rodgers summed up the third down issues: “Execution of the details, small details. I mean, a lot of mental errors today. Now, we had some issues with guys getting hurt and Allen [Lazard] got banged up and Sammy [Watkins], we were trying to keep Sammy to 20, 25 plays. But yeah, we just made some silly execution mistakes.”
But this game was as much about what happened, or did not happen, on third down, as much as it was about what happened on those drives to be in that situation.
First third down, 1st quarter, 3rd-and-4 @ GB 42, 12:18 remaining
The Packers are in a manageable 3rd-and-4 here and are primed to run their quick game concepts in these situations.
They are running a triple slants concept to the left, similar to the old school “Ernie” concept and one they typically will call in these situations. The Commanders are playing cover-6, quarters to the Packers trips side. Rodgers reads how the middle hook defender drops and works from #3 to the #2 receiver in trips. The linebacker widens with the #3 receiver so Rodgers fires the pass into the window to Lazard but Lazard drops it. Not a good start.
Second third down, 1st quarter, 3rd-and-12 @ GB 22, 1:10 remaining
Before this third down, the offense was flagged offensive holding first down, making it 1st-and-20. They managed to get eight yards back with an Aaron Jones run, setting up 2nd-and-12.
The play call was a jailbreak screen to Romeo Doubs (No. 87) from the offense’s right in trips. Doubs did not have a good day. This would be his first of at least four drops or instances where he could not hold onto the ball, and this drop set up a 3rd-and-12.
On 3rd-and-12, the Packers are not even looking to pick up the first down and have essentially conceded the drive with the play call here, a quick swing pass out to the flat to Aaron Jones.
Jones might have been able to get a few more yards after the catch and either pick up the first down or make a manageable 4th down easier to convert but Rodgers left the pass high and behind Jones instead of in a spot where he could catch it and get upfield quicker.
Third third down, 2nd quarter, 3rd-and-25 @ GB 10, 6:03 remaining
Another drive with poor execution and untimely penalties leads to another third and long situation here midway through the second quarter.
On 1st-and-10, the Packers called a bubble swing run-pass option (RPO) with a trips bunch to the right. The play lost six yards when Rodgers failed to identify that the defense was outnumbered to the right 3-to-2. He chose to give the ball to Jones, who was unable to get any positive yardage because the Commanders had the offense outnumbered in the box.
On second down, Yosh Nijman got flagged for another holding, making the new 2nd down a 2nd-and-25.
On 2nd-and-25, the Packers' play call was an attempt to get at least half the yards back and make it a somewhat manageable third down. The play call is a stick concept to Robert Tonyan (No. 85) but Tonyan kept running his stick route through the zone in the window when he should have sat as soon as he broke outside. As a result, Rodgers’ pass is behind him, making it difficult to catch and he was unable to secure it. Another bad offensive drop.
Fourth third down, 2nd quarter, 3rd-and-11 @ GB 40, 1:39 remaining
Another holding penalty, this time by Tonyan on first down, got this drive off to another rocky start and made it difficult for the Packers to get anything going offensively before the half so that by the time they got to third down in this series, they were facing yet another 3rd-and-10+ situation.
Rodgers is looking for Doubs on the in-breaking route from the right side. Rodgers throws a good pass here, sort of low and away from the defender’s leverage in front of Doubs but Doubs is unable to come up with the pass, going to the ground and never getting total control of it. This is a difficult catch to make but Doubs has to come up with this.
Fifth third down, 3rd quarter, 3rd-and-2 @ GB 47, 9:07 remaining
The Packers started to get into somewhat of a rhythm here and started to go back to what worked: the quick passing game and RPOs to move the ball. On 3rd-and-2, Rodgers targeted Doubs again but this time Rodgers left the pass too low.
The Commanders are in man coverage across the board with a single high safety deep and two rat players underneath in low zones. It is not unreasonable to think Rodgers assumed Doubs would have kept running versus the coverage but Doubs correctly felt the zone underneath and sat down.
Rodgers even double clutches seeing the same but a rushed throw left the pass low for Doubs and he could not hang on. Doubs could have held on but that is not his fault. His quarterback should have made his job easier.
Sixth third down, 4th quarter, 3rd-and-10 @ WAS 46, 12:10 remaining
In the fourth quarter, the Packers were still able to mount a comeback to get within two points before ultimately falling short. That drive to pull within two would have been the game-winning drive had the Packers scored on a series where they failed to convert on third down and then failed again on fourth down.
The Packers' play call is the same as one of the early third downs above, the triple slants/Ernie concept. Rodgers looks for Doubs but the safety is driving down so he quickly moves to Amari Rodgers and leaves the pass low and outside.
Amari has to stop his momentum to catch the pass and is unable to keep his feet. He tried to scoot forward on the ground to the marker but was tagged down. Either way, his effort made the ensuing 4th-and-1 manageable, which will be its own post on Acme Packing Company this week.
After the game, Rodgers said:
“I’m not worried about this squad. In fact, this might be the best thing for us. This week, nobody’s going to give us a chance going to Buffalo on ‘Sunday Night Football’ with a chance to get exposed.”
What was left unsaid: the Packers might be without Allen Lazard, another blow to an already thin wide receiver room. They open as 10.5 underdogs in Buffalo. If it is not time to be “worried about this squad,” then when is it appropriate?