I don't normally feel better about a loss after watching the game film the next day, but Sunday's 34-30 loss to the Bengals didn't look quite as bad the second time around as it did in live action. Sure, we can say 34 points is too much, but the defense can only be blamed for 21 of those points. The real problem Sunday wasn't the defense (that unit was missing 3 key players in the second half anyway). The real problem was the red zone execution by the Packers offense.
The Packers started drives inside Bengals territory five out of its six drives in the first half, and came away with three field goals. That's woefully insufficient for a team that prides itself on it's offensive efficiency. Let's hope the next two weeks of practice bring plenty of film study, ice baths, and hamstring stretches.
Now let's get on to the grades.
I know this might seem sacrilegious, but Aaron Rodgers had a bad game on Sunday. Maybe not by average NFL starter standards, but Aaron Rodgers is not an average NFL starter. He missed low on numerous passes, held on to the ball too long a few times, and looked generally gun shy on a lot of passes that he wouldn't have thought twice about last week.
Maybe it was the fatigue of the four sacks and all the cheap shots the Bengals were dishing out? Maybe it was the Bengals defense blanketing most of the Packer wideouts? Maybe it was just Rodgers losing his cool? All I know is, 26-43 for 244 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions is not Rodgers-like.
He did show the intestinal fortitude to keep his team in the game after he was down 14 points before even stepping on the field though. He also made some damn-near perfect passes to Jordy Nelson on the sidelines, and Finley across the middle before he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. I expect Rodgers to come back with a vengeance after the bye week against a Lions secondary that is mediocre at best.
Running Backs: B-
Giving up the game-winning turnover is grounds for an immediate full letter grade deduction, which is too bad because I really liked what I saw out of Johnathan Franklin on Sunday. Franklin showed a quick burst and elusiveness in the open field. His 51-yard run in the third quarter was mostly due to his escapability and field vision. He also proved to be a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, and wasn't terrible in pass protection either. Franklin finished with 103 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
James Starks was on pace for another 100-yard performance before twisting his knee before halftime. He finished with 55 yards on 13 carries, but Starks inability to stay healthy is starting to become a concern. It seems like he can't play two full games without getting hurt anymore. Hopefully he'll be able to go in two weeks, and provide the Packers with a three-headed running back attack.
Wide Receivers: B
I had a hard time grading this position this week. The Bengals defense is one of the better ones in the NFL, but I thought the Packers would be able to create more separation on a consistent basis. Rodgers had to "throw them open" on numerous occasions, and besides a 30-yard pass to Nelson and a 26-yard pass to Cobb, there weren't many splash plays.
Give the Bengals defense credit, they came out and challenged the wide outs to play physical. Not many teams have the man-power or athletic talent to keep up with the Packers wide outs, but Terence Newman, Adam (Pacman) Jones, Leon Hall, and Reggie Nelson did a pretty good job.
Nelson finished with 8 catches for 93 yards, Cobb added five for 54, and Jones had four for 34 and one touchdown. Ex-Packer Jeremy Ross added one catch for 10 yards.
Tight Ends: B
Some of you may disagree with me on this one, but I thought Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor did a solid job in the absence of Jermichael Finley. The most noticeable play for me was Quarless' lead block on Franklin's touchdown run. He was able to seal off the end, and provide Franklin an easy path to the endzone.
Taylor had a few miscues on his route running, which isn't going to endear him with Aaron Rodgers much. Obviously, the Packers offense isn't the same without Finley, but I thought the two young tight ends did an admirable job on Sunday.
Quarless finished with three catches for 21 yards, while Taylor finished with two for 11 yards.
Offensive Line: C+
Evan Dietrich-Smith struggled again on Sunday. He got destroyed by Domata Peko for a sack, and continually forced Rodgers to pull down the ball and move before he was ready due to the pressure up the middle. Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari also gave up pressures of their own. The Packers ran for 182 yards, 100 more than the Bengals, but the four sacks and eight QB hits were too much for my liking.
The Packers appear to be a better running team this year, but that won't mean much if EDS doesn't get it together. I expect a few more full-house looks, two running backs out of shotgun, or maybe even a tight end protector package on offense to account for potential blitzing linebackers in the future.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line didn't make much noise on Sunday, other than Mike Daniels sack on Andy Dalton. They were able to hold the Bengals offense to under 100 yards rushing, but did not produce much of a pass rush. In fact, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, and B.J. Raji combined for 2 tackles on the day (Raji had zero). The Packers started bringing safeties and corners on blitzes just to put pressure on Andy Dalton.
I am happy with the improvement the defense has shown as far as run defense, but if this unit wants to go from good to great, it needs to develop a pass rush with it's down linemen.
Lost in the conversion of Clay Matthew's bum hamstring is the performance of Brad Jones, who finished with 11 tackles, including nine solo. Jones was a reliable tackler in run support, and was above-average in pass coverage as well. AJ Hawk also added nine tackles.
Matthews finished with two tackles (one was a sack and one was a forced fumble). Hopefully this isn't going to be a lingering long-term hamstring problem, because as Sunday's second half showed, the Packers defense isn't the same without him. Nick Perry finished with three tackles, while Jamari Lattimore added two, Andy Mulumba added two, and Robert Francois added one.
Sam Shields deserves an A for his coverage of All-Pro wide out AJ Green on Sunday. Shields held Green to four receptions for 46 yards and one touchdown. The 20-yard touchdown reception was really the only time Green won decisively over Shields in what was otherwise a shutdown performance. Shields finished four tackles, a pass break-up and an interception.
The reason the cornerbacks were downgraded is due to the play of Tramon Williams and Micah Hyde. Hyde got beat on Mohamed Sanu's first long gain of the game, and Williams was beat badly by Marvin Jones for an 11-yard touchdown catch. Williams aided his cause with his sack on Dalton, and finished with six tackles, while Hyde finished with two tackles.
Davon House added one tackle and tough man-to-man coverage, but missed a sack on the less-than-elusive Andy Dalton. I still believe getting Casey Hayward back will make a huge difference for this particular position group, but until then, Hyde and Williams need to be sharper in pass coverage or teams will pick the Packers defense apart with their tight ends and secondary receivers.
M.D. Jennings made a few key plays on Sunday, namely his 24-yard fumble recovery for a score, but was replaced by undrafted free agent Chris Banjo at points during the game as well. That doesn't bode well for Jennings' chances of starting over Jerron McMillian once Morgan Burnett returns.
Jennings finished with four tackles, one sack, and fumble recovery for a touchdown. Chris Banjo recorded two tackles, while McMillian didn't record a tackle, but had one pass break-up.
It's clear the secondary needs to improve it's level of play in order for this team to be a Super Bowl contender. Much like the cornerbacks with Casey Hayward, the safety position will get an instant upgrade once Morgan Burnett returns. Let's hope that's the case for Week 5 when Calvin Johnson comes to town.
Mason Crosby was 3 for 3 on Sunday, and added valuable points when the Packers offense struggled. Crosby is now 4 for 4 on the season, and seems to be gaining back some of his lost confidence. Some might say McCarthy's call to go for it on 4th-and-inches was due to a lack of trust in Crosby, but I believe it was just McCarthy being aggressive. Had it been a matter of making it a two-score game, I believe McCarthy gives Crosby a shot there.
Tim Masthay had three punts, all of which landed inside the Bengals twenty-yard line. He added a tackle on special teams too. DId I mention he's been booting the ball out of the endzone on most kickoffs? In terms of redheads, Masthay > Dalton.
Overall, it was a tough game to grade. I feel like the Packers let one slip away on Sunday, and had more than enough opportunities to put away a team on the road. Now it's time to get healthy, and clobber the rest of the NFC North teams.
More from Acme Packing Company:
- McCarthy Presser 9/23: Releasing Jeremy Ross and the 4th Down Decision
- Packers Cut Jeremy Ross: Kick Returner Released After Key Fumble
- Packers vs. Bengals Reaction: Five Observations from Cincinnati's Win
- Packers vs. Bengals Final Score: Cincinnati Wins Sloppy Game 34-30