Packers report card: Turnovers prove costly
Handing out grades following the Green Bay Packers' 34-30 road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:
Passing Offense: D+
Remember all those records that Aaron Rodgers broke and tied in the Packers' Week 2 win? Well, Rodgers' performance in the loss at Cincinnati was nothing like that.
This was one of the worst games that Rodgers has played in several years. Given how high of a bar Rodgers has set for himself -- he's a former NFL MVP, after all, everything he does for the rest of his career will be relative to what he's proven to be capable of. Rodgers was far from MVP-caliber against the Bengals.
Rodgers completed 26 of 43 passes for 244 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, leaving him with a passer rating of 64.5. That's his lowest passer rating since Week 14 of the 2010 season, which was a game that he left with a concussion after only 11 attempts. To make matters worse, Rodgers was caught by television cameras while arguing with coach Mike McCarthy. It was a rare bad day for Rodgers.
One of Rodgers' interceptions was not his fault, though, and James Jones knows it. Late in the third quarter, Rodgers was looking for him on a short pass across the middle on third-and-3 when Jones stopped his route. That mistake is on Jones, and it's one that the seventh-year receiver doesn't make often.
Green Bay's pass blocking wasn't good, either. Rodgers was unable to get into a rhythm in this game, and part of that was due to all the pressure coming from Cincinnati's defense. Despite the Bengals entering the game with only two sacks in their first two games, they sacked Rodgers four times and had a total of eight quarterback hits.
On the positive side, Jordy Nelson had a really good game, catching eight of the nine passes thrown his way for 93 yards. However, the Packers' passing offense suffered when tight end Jermichael Finley had to the leave the game with a head injury on the first offensive series. Finley's backups -- Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor -- didn't pose the same receiving threat, and Quarless dropped an easy pass.
Rushing Offense: B+
For the first time in six years, Green Bay's offense had back-to-back games with a 100-yard rusher. To put it in perspective, Rodgers was still waiting to get his chance behind Brett Favre when the Packers last accomplished this feat.
Making it more impressive for Green Bay's offense is that it happened without its top three running backs -- and without fullback John Kuhn, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. DuJuan Harris is out for the season, Eddie Lacy was out with a concussion and James Starks left the game late in the second quarter with a knee injury. This gave Johnathan Franklin a chance to shine, and, with the exception of one major issue, he did.
Getting all of his carries in the second half, Franklin rushed for 103 yards on 13 attempts (7.9 average) and scored his first-career NFL touchdown. Franklin showed speed and patience in his runs, and he played much better than the seemingly overwhelmed rookie that he looked like throughout most of training camp.
If Franklin's day had stopped after 10 carries, Green Bay's rushing offense would have earned an 'A' grade. But, with the Packers hanging onto a 30-27 lead late in the fourth quarter, Franklin fumbled and the ball was picked up and returned 58 yards for a Bengals touchdown. That turned out to be the game-winning points for Cincinnati.
Still, Green Bay's offensive line has done a very good job run-blocking the past two games. And against a tough front seven like the Bengals have, that's not an easy task that the Packers' offensive line pulled off.
Rushing Defense: A-
Cincinnati's backfield with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard is a solid one-two punch. The two of them are also running behind of the NFL's better run-blocking offensive lines (former Wisconsin Badger Kevin Zeitler has been particularly good at right guard).
Bernard was by far the better of the two running backs in this game, rushing for 50 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. Green-Ellis had just 29 yards on 10 carries, but he too had a touchdown.
If that was where the statistics ended, Green Bay's rushing defense wouldn't have earned the high mark of an A-minus. However, early in the second quarter, Clay Matthews forced Green-Ellis to fumble, and the ball was scooped up by M.D. Jennings and returned 24 yards for a Packers touchdown. Those are the type of game-changing plays that typically help a team pick up a win.
Passing Defense: A-
There are not many cornerbacks who would be capable of containing A.J. Green as well as Sam Shields did. The one big negative for Shields was giving up a 20-yard touchdown pass to Green, but other than that, the Packers shut down one of the NFL's best receivers. Green finished with four catches (on eight targets) for 46 yards. Unlike the Packers' first two games this season, defensive coordinator Dom Capers matched up one of his cornerbacks (Shields) with the top receiver (Green) instead of keeping the cornerbacks on the same side of the field and just covering whichever player was across from them.
Shields also had an interception late in the first quarter when he made a great break on the ball.
Green Bay entered the game with just three sacks in the first two games. But against a more standard drop-back style quarterback in Andy Dalton, the Packers brought more pressure and had four sacks in this game. Matthews, Jennings, Mike Daniels and Tramon Williams all recorded sacks.
Green Bay's passing defense came up with two other turnovers in addition to Shields' interception. Brad Jones forced a fumble after a Jermaine Gresham catch that was recovered by A.J. Hawk, and Matthews' sack included a strip of Dalton that was recovered by Jones.
The Packers forced a total of four turnovers, and that is supposed to be enough for a win. Though Green Bay's defense wasn't flawless, four takeaways is a really good day for any group.
Special Teams: D+
The play that put the Packers in an early hole came on special teams when Jeremy Ross ran up to field a short kickoff but never hauled in the catch. The Bengals recovered at the 2-yard line and punched it into the end zone on the next snap, giving Cincinnati a 14-0 lead before Rodgers had even taken the field.
The mistakes for Ross are already beginning to pile up this season. Considering Ross' muffed punt in Green Bay's 2012 divisional-round loss, he might be one more gaffe away from the Packers going in a different direction in the return game. But, at least for now, Green Bay put Ross right back on the field in Cincinnati.
Mason Crosby made all three of his field-goal attempts (from distances of 41 yards, 26 yards and 19 yards) and Tim Masthay dropped all three of his punts within the 20-yard line. Both of those aspects are very positive, but a momentum-shifting fumble like the one Ross had in the first quarter carries a lot of weight.
The bye week came at a surprisingly good time for the Packers, despite it being so early in the schedule. The injury report contained the names of important players like Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward and Lacy, but now Matthews, Finley and Starks have also been added to that list.
Green Bay has a 1-2 overall record this season and is 0-2 on the road. The Packers' only win so far came at home against the 0-3 Washington Redskins. That's certainly not the start that McCarthy was looking for.
This was a game that Green Bay had set itself up to win. Forcing four turnovers and having a 30-14 lead midway through the third quarter is as good as it gets, especially after trailing 14-0 early in the game. But with Rodgers not playing well, the offensive line struggling to pass-block, Franklin having a very costly fumble and Ross' kickoff return blunder, the Packers have to spend their bye week thinking about a game that they let get away from them.
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