GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was an ugly win for the Packers. Or, in Jermichael Finley’s words, a real nasty win. It wasn’t the type of game that the team will look back on with pride, but Green Bay (now 5-3) hit the midway point of its season with its third consecutive victory.
Handing out grades following the Packers’ 24-15 win over the Jaguars:
Passing Offense: B-
Playing without top wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, expectations for the performance and statistics of quarterback Aaron Rodgers had to be adjusted in this game. But against a Jacksonville defense that is one of the worst in the league, the Packers struggled in sustaining multiple long, successful drives. Rodgers led Green Bay to just two offensive touchdowns and looked rattled at many points throughout the game.
Rodgers finished 22 of 35 passing for a season-low 186 yards with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was under pressure in the pocket often, and considering that the Jaguars’ defense is ranked last in the NFL in sacks, it was not a good day for the Packers’ offensive line. This was a matchup that Green Bay’s big men upfront had to dominate, but it didn’t happen. Rodgers was sacked twice, one of which resulted in a fumble. A second Rodgers fumble was negated by a defensive penalty. The Packers’ passing offense can only be as good as the offensive lines, and it’s becoming increasingly common to see Rodgers in trouble too early when he drops back to pass.
James Jones led the receivers with seven catches on nine targets for 78 yards. Randall Cobb had five receptions for 28 yards with one touchdown, and veteran Donald Driver hauled in two catches for 10 yards and a TD. Undrafted rookie Jarrett Boykin caught his first career pass and also drew a defensive holding penalty on a deep ball downfield.
Rushing Offense: D
Alex Green was not able to get anything going on the ground all game. Jacksonville had not stopped the run well this season (ranked 25th in the league) but it sure looked like an elite group on Sunday. Green finished with just 54 yards on 22 carries (2.5 average) and a longest run of only seven yards.
This is the second consecutive game in which the Packers’ rushing offense looked poor. When coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling went away from the run in the second half against Indianapolis, Green Bay’s offensive linemen weren’t happy about it. But the way that the blocking is right now, it sure doesn’t look like a group capable of doing great things in that area.
Some blame goes to Green, who needs to read plays better and be more patient. But on many runs, he’s being met in the backfield just a split-second after getting the handoff. That’s why some blame falls on the offensive line, which needs to give Green a better chance. And some blame falls on McCarthy, who, as the man in charge of the offense, needs to get more creative to open up better opportunities in the run game. Not seeing Cobb in the backfield for a change of pace was a bit of a surprise, especially as the running game continued to struggle.
James Starks may start taking a few carries away from Green in the coming weeks, but the running backs have not been the only problem recently.
Rushing Defense: B+
The Packers caught a break that Jaguars star running back Maurice Jones-Drew missed this game due to injury. That brought in backup Rashad Jennings, who Green Bay’s defense did a nice job in containing. Jennings is not an explosive back like Jones-Drew, so the Packers needed to perform well against him, and they did.
Jennings finished with 59 yards rushing on 17 carries (3.5 average). With the exception of his 21-yard run late in the first quarter, Green Bay kept him from doing much to change the game.
Passing Defense: B-
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert set a new career high with 303 passing yards, completing 27 of his 49 attempts with one touchdown pass and no interceptions. The amount of yards allowed is a concern for the Packers, as is not coming away with an interception against an inexperienced QB. Jacksonville also lacks a true No. 1 receiver, which should have created opportunities for Green Bay’s secondary to shut down the passing game. But that didn’t happen.
Not having Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) is going to take time for the Packers to adjust. Morgan Burnett had his best game of the season, while M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian got more snaps as a result.
Sam Shields (ankle) also missed his second consecutive game. With he and Woodson out, rookie Casey Hayward played outside corner in the 3-4 base defense and moved to the inside slot in nickel and dime. When Hayward was inside, Davon House played outside. McMillian was in the slot in the dime.
Gabbert picked them apart for several long pass plays, including gains of 36, 35 and 24 yards. But, to Green Bay’s credit, the only time it allowed the Jaguars in the end zone was after a Rodgers fumble gave Jacksonville great field possession at the 13-yard line.
Special Teams: B
There was one terrific, game-changing play. That came in the second quarter when House blocked a punt that was eventually recovered for a touchdown by Dezman Moses. Remarkably, the Packers only had 10 players on the field for that play, but with a great effort by House, it didn’t seem to matter much.
However, there were several costly errors by Green Bay’s special teams. Mason Crosby clanked a 32-yard field goal off the goalpost, failing to extend the Packers’ lead from two points to five. Tim Masthay also mishit on a punt, one that was his worst in a season that has been otherwise terrific.
The other special teams blunder in this game happened when Green Bay called for a fake field-goal. With the holder Masthay rolling out left looking to pass for a first down, he missed an easy receiver in Ryan Taylor right in front of him. Masthay instead decided to chuck it deep across his body on a pass that landed incomplete. For all the successful trick plays that the Packers’ special teams has had this season, this was their first significant failure.
A win is a win, yes. The Packers are now 5-3, have won three consecutive games and are only one week away from a much-needed bye to get some players healthy and back on the field. But even though most players won’t admit publicly that this was a case of playing down to the level of their opponent, that’s exactly what this was.
Green Bay is a vastly superior team, even with all the injuries. But the Packers let the Jaguars hang around all game. Gabbert even had a chance to lead Jacksonville on a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. That’s why this game was ultimately a disappointment for McCarthy’s group in many areas. A loss to a team as bad as the Jaguars — at Lambeau Field, nonetheless — would have been devastating. But the Packers got the win and can move on, though they’ll need to play much, much better to become a serious Super Bowl threat in the NFC.