5 things: When Aaron Rodgers struggles, Packers struggle
Five things we learned from the Green Bay Packers' 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the 2013 regular season:
1. Difficult for Packers to win when Rodgers doesn't play well
After a record-setting performance in Week 2, Aaron Rodgers added to several negative statistical categories in this game.
Often described as a quarterback who struggles to bring his team back in the fourth quarter, Rodgers gave his critics a fresh example. Down by four points with 3:47 remaining in the game and the ball on their own 20 yard line, Rodgers failed to lead a scoring drive as Green Bay turned the ball over on downs. In 24 career attempts, Rodgers has led only five successful comebacks in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers threw interceptions on back-to-back drives, one late in the third quarter and the other in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. The first one was mostly the fault of receiver James Jones, but it was Rodgers' first multiple-interception game since Week 7 of the 2010 season.
Rodgers completed 26 of 43 passes for 244 yards with one touchdown and the two interceptions, which is a passer rating of 64.5. The last time Rodgers had a passer rating worse than that in a regular season game was Week 14 in 2010 -- when he left the game in Detroit early with a concussion after just 11 attempts.
Though this loss certainly doesn't fall entirely on Rodgers, it serves as a reminder that the Packers usually can only be as good as their quarterback is that day.
2. Forcing four turnovers is supposed to equal a victory
Here is how four consecutive Bengals' drives ended: intercepted pass, fumble, fumble, fumble. Green Bay only forced one turnover in the first two games combined, so it was a significant accomplishment for the Packers' defense to come up with the ball four times in a row.
It's not often that a team is able to force four turnovers in one game and still lose. But a Sam Shields interception, two forced fumbles by Clay Matthews and one by Brad Jones wasn't enough. That's especially unlikely given that one of the fumbles that Matthews forced was recovered by M.D. Jennings and returned for a Green Bay touchdown.
Aside from Jennings' touchdown, the other three forced turnovers all gave the Packers possession in Cincinnati territory, yet Green Bay only came away with two field goals and one punt on the ensuing drives. The Packers' inability to capitalize better on those three series was a significant factor in the outcome.
3. Turning the ball over four times often results in a loss
Though Green Bay offered a rare example of forcing four turnovers and losing, the Bengals added evidence to the general rule that taking the ball away four times is a key to victory most of the time.
Rodgers had two interceptions, but the two turnovers that really hurt the Packers were fumbles. The first one came on a kickoff return in the first quarter right after Cincinnati had taken a 7-0 lead. Jeremy Ross ran up to field a short kickoff and couldn't haul it in, leading to a Bengals recovery at the 2-yard line and a touchdown on the next play. The other was a Johnathan Franklin fumble late in the fourth quarter that was recovered by the Bengals and returned 58 yards for a touchdown. That turned out to be the game-winning play for Cincinnati.
Turnovers are already a difficult thing for a team to overcome, but when two of them result in an easy 14 points for the opponent, winning that game requires so many other things to go right. And, for Green Bay in this game, not even the four turnovers that its defense forced was enough to overcome the four times that the ball was given away.
4. Packers are suddenly a good running team
Last week, Green Bay had a 100-yard rusher for the first time in 44 regular-season games. That was with James Starks, who was the team's Plan C running back and was only on the field because originally planned starter DuJuan Harris is out for the season and new starter Eddie Lacy had a concussion.
Starks suffered a knee injury late in the first half against Cincinnati after rushing for 55 yards. That opened the door for Franklin -- a fourth-round pick -- to play in the second half, and he delivered. Franklin finished with 103 rushing yards on 13 carries with one touchdown, all of that production coming in the second half.
This is the first time that the Packers have had back-to-back games with a 100-yard rusher since the 2007 season.
Though Franklin's day ended about as badly as any running back's could (with the fumble that was returned for a touchdown), it's still becoming obvious that Green Bay is going to be able to run the ball this season no matter who is lined up in the backfield. That's a significant change from the past few seasons and is something positive for Packers players and fans to remember as the team goes into its bye week with a 1-2 record.
5. Pass protection took a step back
Cincinnati has a very good front seven, and Green Bay knew that coming into the game (which is another reason to credit the Packers for being able to run the ball). However, the Bengals only had two sacks in the first two games this season. Against the Packers, though, Cincinnati sacked Rodgers four times and hit him eight times. It's not solely the fault of Green Bay's offensive line for Rodgers' below-average performance, but when the pass blocking isn't there, it's difficult for a quarterback to get into a good rhythm.
In addition to getting pressure on Rodgers, the Bengals knocked down three passes on the Packers' final drive. On the fourth-down play that Green Bay was unable to convert on, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari missed a cut block on Carlos Dunlap that led to a batted pass and a turnover on downs.
The Packers' offensive line has had its highs and lows through the first three games this season, but the inability to let Rodgers get settled in the pocket in this game was a step in the wrong direction for the team's pass blocking.
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