5 things: Packers’ woes continue with loss to Giants

Five things we learned from the Green Bay Packers’ 27-13 road loss to the New York Giants in Week 11 of the 2013 regular season:

1. Packers couldn’t do enough to stop a below-average Giants offense

It wasn’t all bad for Green Bay’s defense. Tramon Williams played one of his best games in years with a red-zone interception and multiple one-on-one open-field tackles. There was also one New York drive early in the fourth quarter where everything clicked for the Packers with two sacks and a quick three-and-out. But that’s about where the positives end for Green Bay on defense.

The Giants have been a below-average offense this season. Coming into the game, New York was ranked 30th in scoring, 29th in rushing offense and Eli Manning led all NFL quarterbacks in interceptions thrown. Yet, New York’s offense was able to perform well against what has become a lackluster Packers defense in recent weeks.

Simply looking at the Giants’ total yards (334) doesn’t tell the story. New York controlled this game. In the first three quarters, the Giants had two 11-play drives and one 10-play drive, which led them to winning the overall time of possession battle — 35:14 to Green Bay’s 24:46. It might appear in the box score that the Packers stopped the run at an acceptable level (New York had 78 yards on 24 carries), but the Giants earned eight first downs on rushing plays and also converted two fourth-down attempts into first downs behind the big body of running back Brandon Jacobs.

With Aaron Rodgers injured, Green Bay has needed its defense to step up and win the team a couple games, but nearly three full games with backup quarterbacks has resulted in three Packers losses.

2. Three interceptions from Scott Tolzien was too many to win

Tolzien did a lot of things well in this game under the circumstances. Remember, this was Green Bay’s practice-squad quarterback who the team certainly never expected to take an in-game snap this season much less be the starter on the road in Week 11.

Tolzien looked downfield often and had success on several deep routes. On five passing plays alone he totaled 177 yards of offense. That’s impressive for a quarterback with Tolzien’s lack of experience.

Tolzien’s interceptions, however, really hurt the Packers’ chances of pulling off a win in this game. With Green Bay down 10-6, he opened the third quarter with an overthrown ball at midfield that was intercepted. And when the Packers were trying to make a desperate fourth-quarter push trailing 27-13, Tolzien was orchestrating a nice drive before making a mistake on a ball across the middle that was picked off. The second of his three interceptions was a tremendous play by defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul to intercept a fast pass at close range and return it for a touchdown. Tolzien has fault on that throw, but it was also a case of an athletic defensive player making a highlight play.

Like a week earlier in Green Bay’s loss at home to Philadelphia, it was just one or two bad plays that made the difference between Tolzien playing very well and not playing well enough to win. For Packers fans who are used to seeing Rodgers rarely make game-breaking mistakes, it probably seems strange to watch those type of plays happen. But it also demonstrates just how valuable Rodgers is and how a young, inexperienced quarterback like Tolzien will usually have a couple plays in every game that make him look like a young, inexperienced quarterback.

3. Packers running game was nonexistent

Eddie Lacy couldn’t get anything going on the ground, and he sure wasn’t getting much help. Lacy rushed for 27 yards on 14 carries (1.9 average). His longest run was five yards. It’s not been a long NFL career yet for Lacy, but this was by far the worst production he’s had.

Lacy opened the game with two rushes for a combined three yards. It turned out to be a sign of things to come.

The Giants have a good run defense this season, coming into this game ranked 11th in the league in that category. But no matter what Green Bay tried, there was no room to work in the running game.

Lacy has 100 total rushing yards in the past two games, and it’s not a coincidence that those were two games in which the opposing defense game-planned for Rodgers being out. New York didn’t want to allow Lacy to be the difference, so him being contained to this degree led to the expected result: A Packers loss.

4. Still no special teams return game

Green Bay entered this game as the NFL’s worst kickoff return team by a significant margin, and it looked like it in New York.

Micah Hyde’s three kick returns for 69 yards (23.0 average) will actually improve the Packers’ league-worst average, but that’s misleading. On all three kick returns, Green Bay didn’t get the ball to the 20-yard line once. The first one of the game was a touchback, but after that, the Packers began their offensive drives at the 18-yard line, then the 13-yard line, then the 17-yard line.

Hyde fielded all three in the end zone (two were 4 yards deep and one was 3 yards deep) and ran them out. Coach Mike McCarthy was undoubtedly looking for a spark from special teams — as proven by the failed fake-punt attempt, which explains Hyde continuing to take them out of the end zone despite the poor results. It was yet another bad performance by Green Bay on kickoff return.

5. Packers’ playoff hopes fading

With six games left in the regular season and a 5-5 record, Green Bay is ranked 10th in the NFC standings. And it will probably be two more games before Rodgers returns and tries to save a season that is falling apart without him.

The Packers are only one game behind the division-leading Bears and Lions, with Green Bay currently holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over Detroit (with a Thanksgiving matchup looming) but losing that tiebreaker to Chicago (with a Week 17 game on the road still to come). Winning the NFC North is going to be the Packers’ best chance of making the playoffs, because the wild-card situation includes a jumble of teams with better records than Green Bay, including the 49ers — which owns a head-to-head victory this season from Week 1.

Rodgers returning soon could quickly change the Packers’ fate this season, but if he is out two more games as expected, Green Bay has to win at least one of them (home vs. Vikings, then on Thanksgiving at Detroit) and then still likely get some help down the stretch. Everything was looking positive for the Packers not long ago with a 5-2 record, but Rodgers’ broken left collarbone has put Green Bay in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

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