Rodgers, Packers thrown on their backs

This is not a report card that Packers’ players will want to post on their refrigerators as an example of work well done. No, this is the type that gets hidden in backpacks for as long as possible with the hope that, if enough time passes, it can just be forgotten about.
Handing out grades following the Packers’ 38-10 loss to the New York Giants:

Passing offense: C-
Aaron Rodgers had very little time in the pocket to throw the ball. He was sacked five times, hit seven times and had four passes deflected. All of that pressure led to a Rodgers fumble and an interception. It also resulted in the Packers’ passing offense gaining only 201 yards despite playing from behind the entire game and needing to throw the ball to catch up. 
Rodgers clearly wasn’t at his best, but it’s difficult for any quarterback to perform well when his offensive line is getting him chased on nearly every down before the plays are allowed to fully develop. Rodgers completed 14 of 25 passes for 219 yards with one touchdown and an interception. With a 28-point deficit, coach Mike McCarthy took Rodgers out for Green Bay’s final drive in the fourth quarter.
Jordy Nelson’s 61-yard touchdown catch from Rodgers on the Packers’ opening drive was really the only positive play all game for the offense. It was also only one of two receptions by Nelson on four targets. Randall Cobb was the most thrown-to receiver with seven targets, catching four of them for 39 yards. Tight end Jermichael Finley had a drop on the first pass thrown his way but recovered for three receptions and 51 yards. Surprisingly, Rodgers did not throw a single pass to James Jones.
Rushing offense: C
In the box score, it appears the Packers had a somewhat decent day running the ball with 116 yards and a 4.5-yard average. However, the actual production wasn’t all that good because 34 of those 116 yards came on Green Bay’s final drive when backup quarterback Graham Harrell was handing the ball off to James Starks and Alex Green despite the Giants being up by 28 points. Additionally, Rodgers scrambled three times for 22 yards. Take both of those factors into account, and, on actual called rushing plays when the game was still relatively in the balance, the Packers ran for 60 yards.
One week after Starks had 25 carries and Green had none, it was Green who had the majority of the rushing attempts (10) for 30 yards. Starks had eight attempts, but five of those came on that final drive with Harrell on the field.
With 11 games now completed this season, and six games having passed since Cedric Benson’s foot injury, the Packers still don’t have a definitive answer for who their featured running back is. That is, at least until Benson returns, which could be on Dec. 9, or perhaps not at all if he’s not healed in time.
Rushing defense: C
Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown split the carries and totaled 122 yards on 23 attempts (5.3 average). That is far too much production for the Packers to allow, and it happened mostly because they didn’t win the battles up front and failed to get enough push into the backfield.
Without linebacker Clay Matthews sealing one edge at the elite level that he does, defensive coordinator Dom Capers needed all of his role players to step up and have a positive impact. That didn’t happen against the Giants.
Green Bay finished with just two stops behind the line of scrimmage against New York’s ground game. One came late in the first quarter on a very nice third-down tackle for a 1-yard loss by Brad Jones and Morgan Burnett. The other came on first down early in the fourth quarter when Jones and Mike Daniels tackled Brown for a 1-yard loss.
Passing defense: D
Giants quarterback Eli Manning was efficient and effective. It helps that he was barely touched. Manning was sacked just once, which happened on a great pass rush by undrafted rookie outside linebacker Dezman Moses, who was also held on the play. Other than that, only Erik Walden laid a finger on Manning. Having only two quarterback hurries in an entire game is always going to create problems for any team’s passing defense.
Manning completed 16 of his 30 throws for 249 yards (8.3 average) with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. His passer rating was 114.4.
Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks won the battle against Packers cornerback Davon House, hauling in a game-high five catches for 77 yards with a touchdown. Nicks was targeted 13 times, more than twice as often as his next-most-targeted receiver, Victor Cruz (six).
Bradshaw had the longest pass reception of the game for New York, catching a short throw from Manning and running it 59 yards on a play that showed off a few examples of the poor tackling that would become commonplace.
Special teams: C-
Not connecting on a 55-yard field goal outdoors should be not classified as one of Mason Crosby’s “bad” misses this season. Crosby seemed to hit it fairly well, and the ball didn’t hook left until just before reaching the goal post.
However, the question is why McCarthy attempted that kick in the first place in a tie game (7-7) in the first quarter. Crosby has been in the biggest slump of his career and has now missed seven of his last 15 field-goal attempts. Following the miss, the Giants capitalized on their terrific field position to score a touchdown and go up 14-7. It was a significant momentum-changing moment in the game. Had Crosby made it, perhaps McCarthy is a genius for helping to get his kicker out of a funk. But Crosby didn’t make it, and the miss altered the game in a negative way for the Packers.
Overall: D+
So much for the Packers’ five-game winning streak. Now at 7-4, Green Bay is a full game behind the division-leading 8-3 Chicago Bears.
There are very few positives McCarthy and his players can take from this game. New York eliminated the Packers from the playoffs in a rout last year, and this was a chance to exact some type of revenge. Instead, it was just another easy victory for the Giants over a Green Bay team that is supposedly a favorite to reach the Super Bowl in the NFC. The Packers certainly didn’t look like a serious contender in this game.
The one way in which this loss could propel the Packers forward in a better direction is if getting a beatdown like this on national television is embarrassing enough that it motivates them to improve quickly and re-focus.
If the playoffs started now after 11 games, the fourth-seeded Giants would host the fifth-seed wild-card Packers in a rematch. After this performance, that doesn’t seem like a matchup Green Bay wants, but that’s why Sunday’s loss could be looked back on as a defining moment in the Packers’ season — for better or worse.

Paul Imig on