The Packers' success comes and goes with wide receiver James Jones (above).
Ron Chenoy/Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The month of November was a nightmare for the Green Bay Packers. They entered the month undefeated and exited with four losses.
Green Bay’s offense was unusually impotent in November. The Packers averaged only 17 points per game in losses to Denver, Carolina, Detroit and Chicago.
"We’re not even being effective enough anywhere near our potential, I think," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, per the Associated Press. "The positive signs are that we’re running the ball better. The line’s been blocking really well, they had a great game of pass protection and running the ball. We’ve just got to do a better job of winning consistently and completing passes."
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The Packers’ problem is simple, yet nearly impossible to fix. The offense is not dynamic without a true No. 1 wide receiver, and this is illustrated by James Jones’ game-by-game stat line.
Jones has scored at least one touchdown in all of Green Bay’s wins except for one this season, and in the one exception he had a team-high five catches for 98 yards (Week 4, at San Francisco). In the four recent losses, however, his production has plummeted:
Week 8 at Denver: one catch, two yards
Week 9 at Carolina: two catches, 57 yards
Week 10 vs. Lions: no catches
Week 12 vs. Bears: no catches
Jones’ one big performance in a Week 11 victory over the Minnesota Vikings (six catches, 109 yards, one touchdown) is proof that he’s not in a cold streak — it is a matchup issue. When the opposing defense has a cornerback to neutralize the 31-year-old veteran, the Packers are without a reliable difference-maker at wide receiver.
This is where Rodgers misses Jordy Nelson most. Jones would be a great second or third option, with Randall Cobb working out of the slot. If Nelson hadn’t torn his ACL in the preseason, Rodgers would never need to target Davante Adams 21 times in a single game, like he did against the Lions a few weeks ago.
But there’s no changing that now. The Packers must learn to win without a matchup-busting wide receiver, and the best way to do that is with a strong running game. Luckily for them, Eddie Lacy has come alive as of late with back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances.
The Packers can win games, if Lacy can carry the load. The biggest concern is his ability to hang on to the ball; he fumbled deep in Packers territory last week, setting up one of the Bears’ two touchdowns in a 17-13 loss.
"Anytime there’s a fundamental that is not performed, at practice you obviously heighten the emphasis for it," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, via the Associated Press. "Anytime it comes to taking care of the football or taking the football away, the opportunities involving the football, we need to be at the top of our game."
The rest of the season may be in Lacy’s hands. The Packers are hoping he doesn’t fumble away the opportunity.
AP, Megatron still among NFL’s top producers at age 30
New names spring up on the NFL’s leader boards every season, but the NFC North is home to two veterans who are still getting the job done. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, both 30 years old, are among the league’s top yardage producers again in 2015.
Peterson leads the entire NFL in rushing with 1,164 yards, as his seasoned legs are still ripping off runs at a rate of 4.9 yards per carry. He’s handling an average of 23.6 offensive touches per game, making him the main power source behind the Vikings’ 8-3 record heading into Week 13.
Peterson’s timeless performances are having a positive impact on his teammates.
"It’s a good feeling," Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright said, according to ESPN’s Ben Goessling. "Any time a guy like Adrian gets the ball, he has a chance to score. That’s exciting, just to be a part of that. We know we have to be on our blocks downfield to get the big runs."
Johnson is still alive and kicking in Detroit, too. He has 921 receiving yards on the season, which ranks ninth in the NFL. Megatron has eclipsed 80 yards in each of the last six games; the Lions have won four of those six games.
Peterson and Johnson were both selected in the 2007 NFL Draft. Johnson went second overall to Detroit, and Peterson went seventh to Minnesota. Almost nine years later, they’re still two of the best at their respective positions.
Chicago learns shutdown defense
The Bears have won three of their last four games, allowing an average of 15 points per game during this stretch. That’s an encouraging sign for a rebuilding defense that ranked 31st in the NFL last season (27.6 PPG).