Packers report card: No run game, or run defense, in third straight loss

Scott Tolzien threw three interceptions, but it was in the ground game that the Packers really struggled.

Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers’ 27-13 road loss to the New York Giants in Week 11:

Passing Offense: C

Scott Tolzien made the type of mistakes that young, inexperienced quarterbacks often do. A week ago, it was Tolzien’s interception in the end zone that cost him and took away from his otherwise effective performance. Against the Giants, it was three interceptions that changed the course of the game.

Tolzien’s first interception was a case of him not seeing a linebacker who dropped in coverage. The second interception was just a great play by a talented, athletic defensive lineman, as Jason Pierre-Paul sniffed out the short throw and earned himself a touchdown and a moment that will forever be part of his highlight package. Tolzien’s third and final interception was mostly due to a mental error that is common among quarterbacks making their first-ever NFL start, especially when put in a situation of trying to make up a 14-point difference in less than two minutes.

Tolzien didn’t lose this game for the Packers, but it’s difficult to pull off a win when there are three interceptions and one of them results in seven points for the defense. To put it into perspective, Aaron Rodgers has thrown four interceptions this season on 251 passing attempts; Tolzien now has five interceptions on 73 passes.

Tolzien did have success with big plays, piecing together five long gains. He connected with Jordy Nelson on 25- and 29-yard passes, with James Jones for 45 yards, with Jarrett Boykin for 52 yards and with tight end Brandon Bostick for 26 yards. That accounted for 177 of Tolzien’s 339 passing yards.

Tolzien completed 24 of his 34 passes, but he didn’t throw a touchdown and finished with a passer rating of 65.7. Tolzien was not sacked at all, though he was under pressure on several occasions.

Nelson led the receivers with 117 yards on eight catches, with Boykin not far behind with 91 yards on six catches.

Rushing Offense: D

One thing that would have really helped Tolzien is a strong running game. Instead, the Packers played their worst game of the season in this area.

Green Bay’s opening drive set the tone. Lacy carried the ball on the first two offensive plays and gained only three yards, forcing the Packers into a 3rd-and-7 situation that wasn’t converted. It didn’t get any better after that, either.

Lacy finished with just 27 yards on 14 carries (season-low 1.9-yard average). The only significant positive for Green Bay on the ground was a four-yard touchdown run by Lacy on a third-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter. That capped off what was by far the Packers’ best drive of the game, getting in the end zone in a hurry with 83 yards on five plays in less than three minutes of work.

Green Bay’s longest run was a 12-yard gain by John Kuhn on what was the final play of the game, when the Giants were more than willing to give up a 12-yard rush. Even with that play, though, the Packers still totaled 55 yards on 20 rushing attempts in a game in which there needed to be at least three times that production if Green Bay was going to have a good shot at winning.

Passing Defense: B-minus

Starting cornerback Sam Shields was probable on Friday’s injury report, but his hamstring was bad enough Sunday afternoon that he was scratched from the lineup. As Green Bay’s best cover man, that was an early setback that the Packers weren’t expecting. But in Shields’ absence, Tramon Williams played one of his best games in years. Williams intercepted Eli Manning in the red zone late in the second quarter when the Giants were trying to extend their lead beyond seven points. Williams also had multiple open-field solo tackles.

Manning leads the NFL (in a way that no quarterback wants to lead the NFL) in interceptions. When New York opened the season losing six games in a row, it had a lot to do with Manning throwing it to the wrong team 15 times. The outcome of this game wasn’t quite as simple as Manning’s accuracy, but it’s played such a big role in the Giants’ win-loss column that it’s impossible to ignore the significance of it. But only Williams was able to snag one away from Manning, and, ultimately, Green Bay forcing just one turnover wasn’t enough for the Packers to win on the road.

Jones, A.J. Hawk, Clay Matthews and Mike Neal all picked up sacks, but all four of them came in the fourth quarter. Considering how upset coach Mike McCarthy has been with his team’s fourth-quarter play, four sacks in the final 15 minutes on Sunday is a positive for Green Bay.

A 26-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle, two long completions to Victor Cruz for a combined 55 yards and one 35-yarder to Hakeem Nicks helped propel Manning to a 279-yard passing performance and a quality 92.4 passer rating. That passer rating is far better than Manning’s average this season of 70.8.

Rushing Defense: C-minus

New York entered this game as the NFL’s 29th-ranked rushing offense. The statistics that accompanied the Giants’ lackluster group of running backs made what the Packers did last season (when Alex Green led the way with just 464 yards) look like a tremendous accomplishment.

While a quick glance at the box score might suggest that Green Bay did relatively well in stopping New York’s uninspiring run game, it was mostly a struggle for the Packers. The Giants moved the chains eight times rushing the ball and converted two fourth downs behind linebacker-sized running back Brandon Jacobs.

Green Bay had three tackles for loss, all three of which came on first-down plays. Brad Jones accounted for two of those.

New York’s starting running back Andre Brown, who’s been with five teams in four NFL seasons and is in his second stint with the Giants (translation: he’s not very good), finished with 66 yards on 18 carries (3.7 average). For a Packers defense that did such a good job against great runners like Adrian Peterson, Reggie Bush, Frank Gore and Ray Rice earlier in the season, the wheels have really fallen off over the past three games.

Special Teams: C

McCarthy’s decision to go for a fake punt backfired. Not only did M.D. Jennings only gain six yards on the fourth-and-7 play, but the Giants took over with good field position and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The Packers continued their dreadful season with kick returns. Already the worst team in the NFL in kick-return average, the three balls Micah Hyde ran out of the end zone each gave Green Bay worse field position than if he had just taken the touchback.

After missing two field-goal attempts against Philadelphia, Crosby had a very good day, connecting on a 57-yarder in the final seconds before halftime. No aspect of Crosby’s accuracy has been more problematic than from distances of longer than 50 yards, so this was a big make for both his own confidence and that of McCarthy to give him future chances in similar situations.

Overall: C

This was Green Bay’s third consecutive loss, one that places the once division-leading Packers in 10th place in the NFC standings. With the exception of the one series Rodgers played against Chicago before breaking his left collarbone, all three of these losses have been without their superstar quarterback. And, to a certain extent, it makes sense that Green Bay would struggle to win without Rodgers. But the issues during this losing streak have gone deeper than the quarterback position, especially on defense. With six games left in the regular season and Rodgers expected to miss two of them, the Packers are in danger of not making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

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