GREEN BAY, Wis. — Penalties, dropped passes, missed throws and turnovers have all contributed to the Packers’ struggles on offense through two games this season. After the incredible year that Green Bay’s offense had in 2011, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the group just don’t look the same right now.
It’s only two games and the regular season is far from over, but the Packers are 23rd in the NFL in total yards and 20th in points. Considering that Green Bay led the league in scoring last season and was third in yards, it’s a significant drop-off.
“We just aren’t clicking,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “I think we’ve been close. It hasn’t been one certain thing. It’s something different every time. We’re going to have to be a patient team.”
Part of the offensive struggles have been because of the quality of the Packers’ opponents, opening the season with the San Francisco 49ers — arguably the top defense in the NFL — and the division rival Chicago Bears. But even once Green Bay begins an easier portion of its schedule in a few weeks — Colts, Rams and Jaguars in weeks 5, 7 and 8 — there still is a defensive strategy that’s clearly working this season against the Packers.
Rodgers, the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player, frequently completed long pass plays last season. In addition to his 45 touchdown passes and all-time record for passer rating, Rodgers led the league with 9.25 yards per attempt. After two games this season, Rodgers ranks 25th in the NFL at 6.87 yards per pass.
But Rodgers isn’t worried yet.
“It’s two games,” he said. “I would say bear with us a little bit. But those were some big numbers (last season).”
It’s those big numbers that have perhaps raised expectations for the Packers’ offense to unrealistic levels. But it’s one thing to be slightly down from their 2011 performance and another to rank as low in some offensive categories as Green Bay currently does.
“I don’t think expectations have anything to do with how you play,” Nelson said.
That’s true, but the Packers’ game film from last season has allowed defenses to adjust and plan accordingly. The 49ers and Bears both played in deep coverage and were content with allowing Rodgers to complete underneath routes and hand the ball off to running back Cedric Benson. The thought process of opposing defenses is obviously to test whether Rodgers and the Packers’ offense can be nearly as good if they’re not able to connect on the big, game-changing, home-run play. Two games into the season, Rodgers hasn’t been able to complete many of those long passes, and as a result, has not been as effective.
“I think teams are going to make us go the long way,” Nelson said. “They’re going to keep everything in front, have us run the ball, (because) they don’t think we can. We ran the ball real well last week against Chicago, and hopefully we can continue that.
“And if (defenses) stay back, we’ll just have to dink and dunk it down the field. That’s their choice, and we’re going to have to adjust, whichever way it is.”
James Jones, whose 49-yard catch in Week 1 is by far the longest by any Packer so far this season, is hopeful that the success that Benson had in Week 2 will help force defenses closer to the line of scrimmage. Against the Bears, Benson had 81 yards on 20 carries (4.1 average).
“Everybody’s playing us too high, so it makes it a little harder,” Jones said. “But with the addition of Benson, the way he ran the ball last game, hopefully we’ll get some 1-high coverage.”
If the long passes are only going to be open on rare occasions, Green Bay will have to become more sure-handed than its receivers have been so far. According to ProFootballFocus.com, tight end Jermichael Finley leads the team in drops with three, Nelson has two and Randall Cobb and Jones both have one. The biggest issue with a couple of the drops is that they’ve come in key moments. One example was a third-down drop by Finley in Week 1 that ended a 28-yard drive with the Packers down by 16 and trying to cut into that deficit.
Rodgers has also misfired on several throws. That was an uncommon sight last season, when Rodgers seemed capable of throwing a perfect pass to any receiver at any time. He’s also thrown two interceptions, which should have been three had Bears linebacker Lance Briggs not dropped one that was right to him. Last season, Rodgers threw six interceptions all year.
A lot is likely going to change over the course of the next 15 weeks, and the Packers could prove that this was nothing more than a slow start on offense. Though play-calling head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t want to make too many decisions or assumptions based on two games, even he knows the offense will have to pick up soon in order for the team to have a successful season.
“I think after four or five games is when you really identify yourself as a football team,” McCarthy said. “We’re not far off on offense. I don’t want to say this (because) I hate when people say, ‘If we make this play or that play, you wouldn’t have to ask me the question,’ but we’ll play better on offense. I’m confident in that.”