Packers (2-3) looking for answers after Colts loss

The Green Bay Packers were looking for answers all over in the

wake of a dispiriting 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Their once powerful offense looks nothing like it did in 2011.

Their defense is starting to look entirely too much like last

year’s group. And their otherwise solid special teams is asking why

its previously reliable, strong-legged kicker Mason Crosby missed a

pair of 50-yard field goals – including a potential tying 51-yarder

with 3 seconds left in the game – after being virtually automatic

before Sunday.

It all adds up to a 2-3 record, putting the Packers below .500

at this point in the season for the third time in coach Mike

McCarthy’s seven-year tenure. When it happened in McCarthy’s first

season of 2006, the team needed a four-game winning streak to end

the year at 8-8. When it happened in 2008 in Aaron Rodgers’ first

season as the team’s starting quarterback, the Packers were 5-5

before a five-game losing streak led to a 6-10 finish.

On top of it all, the Packers’ next game is against the Houston

Texans, who took a perfect 4-0 record into their Monday night game

at the New York Jets. The Packers play at Houston next Sunday

night, the second of three consecutive games away from Lambeau

Field.

”We’re a focused football team; we’re just not playing to the

level that we want to play at right now,” said McCarthy, whose

team reeled off 19 consecutive victories – six straight en route to

the Super Bowl XLV title and 13 in a row to open last season – but

has now lost 5 of its last nine dating back to last season.

”That’s what we have to stay focused on. We have to stay focused

on our habits, our discipline, our preparation, the process leading

up to Sunday night.”

Compounding problems: Injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg

Jennings, who missed Sunday’s loss with a lingering groin injury;

workhorse running back Cedric Benson, who left Sunday’s game with a

sprained foot; tight end Jermichael Finley, who injured his

shoulder against the Colts; and defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who

sprained his ankle in Indianapolis.

McCarthy ruled Benson out for this week’s game while saying that

Raji and Finley ”have a chance” to play against the Texans.

But injuries are only part of the problem. On offense, Rodgers

isn’t playing up to the 45-touchdown, six-interception,

122.5-passer rating standard he set last season when he was

MVP.

He has completed 130 of 189 passes (68.8 percent) for 1,307

yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions (a 2.1 percent

interception rate) with 21 sacks for a passer rating of 97.0.

Last season, the Packers scored 560 points, the second-most in

NFL history and an average of 35 points per game. Through five

games, the Packers have scored only 112 points this season, an

average of 22.5 per game – with two of their touchdowns coming on

special-teams plays.

”It’s never the same from year to year,” McCarthy said. ”We

didn’t have rhythm coming out of training camp, we haven’t

established it consistently through five games. That’s where we

are.”

Asked about the team’s offensive struggles in Sunday’s loss,

Rodgers replied, ””We just didn’t make any plays. (The Colts) got

a little more pressure in the second half. We turned the ball over

and got them into a two-score game and then they kind of got back

mentally into the game. And then we couldn’t put any points on the

board to put them away.”

On defense, the unit that gave up the most yards in the NFL last

season and set an NFL record for most passing yards allowed

continues to give up huge swaths of yardage. One week after giving

up 474 yards to the New Orleans Saints, the defense gave up 464

yards to rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts on

Sunday.

The difference on defense is that the NFL’s most proficient

turnover-producing team is no longer taking the ball away. Rookie

cornerback Casey Hayward’s interception on a Luck pass intended for

Reggie Wayne was just the fifth takeaway on the season for the

Packers, who entered the weekend with the most takeaways (114) of

any team in the league since defensive coordinator Dom Capers took

over in 2009.

Last season, the Packers led the NFL with 31 interceptions and

tied for the league lead with 38 total takeaways; this year, there

have been entirely too many turnovers that didn’t happen because of

officials’ calls, dropped interceptions or penalties that nullified

takeaways.

”It’s a big difference because as we all know turnovers have

such a deciding factor on the games,” Capers said Monday. ”When

you’re getting them, you’re stealing two or three opportunities and

you’re talking about a game where there were 15 possessions (by the

Colts offense). If you can get three or four takeaways and you get

that down to 12 or 11 possessions, it makes a big difference.”

Last season, Crosby was an impressive 24 of 28 and made the

second game-winning kick of his NFL career on Dec. 4, connecting

from 31 yards out as time expired to give the Packers a 38-35

victory over the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants. His

first-game winner had been a 42-yarder against Philadelphia in his

NFL debut on Sept. 9, 2007.

In between those two kicks, Crosby had missed three potential

winning kicks: A 52-yarder with 26 seconds left at Minnesota on

Nov. 9, 2008; a blocked 38-yarder with 25 seconds left at Chicago

on Dec. 22, 2008; and a 53-yarder with 7 seconds left in regulation

in a tie game at Washington on Oct. 10, 2010.

Then came Sunday, when with 8 seconds remaining in the fourth

quarter, Crosby hooked a 51-yard attempt that would have forced

overtime.

”I would say this: I would expect him to step up and make that

kick,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. ”He needs to

help our team in that situation, (given) where that game was at, at

that time. Obviously to go to overtime, he needs to make that

kick.”

But despite all their issues, McCarthy described his team as

”confident, disappointed” while acknowledging the ”contradiction

there.”

”We’ve got to win the next one. We’ve put ourselves in a

hole,” veteran safety/cornerback Charles Woodson said. ”The only

thing you can hang your hat on is that it’s still early in the

season and you’ve got a long way to go.”