Loss to Giants should prove eye-opening

It wasn’t even close. The Packers’ opportunity to gain a small dose of revenge against the New York Giants for the playoff game last season turned into another perplexing loss for Green Bay.

Five things we learned from the Packers’ 38-10 defeat in New York:

1. A thorough beatdown put the season in perspective.

Sure, there was no Clay Matthews, no Charles Woodson, no Greg Jennings and no Sam Shields. That list does not even include the many key players on injured reserve. But the Packers’ five-game winning streak heading into Sunday night quickly became an afterthought when the Giants started to manhandle Green Bay in nearly every facet of the game.

Nothing about this game indicated that the Packers and Giants are comparable teams with similar Super Bowl chances. Their records — both now at 7-4 — would make it appear that way, but unless coach Mike McCarthy makes some significant changes over the next five weeks, his team is not likely to make it past more than a round or two of the playoffs. For some teams, that’d be a successful season. For this Packers group, it would be a disappointment.

The Giants have also had poor performances this season, most notably two weeks ago in an 18-point loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. All it took for New York was a bye week to quickly get its season back on course. Will the Packers be able to recover from a bad loss in a similar fashion? It remains to be seen, but there is going to be a lot for McCarthy’s players and staff to correct in order to do so.

2. Poor offensive line performance renders Aaron Rodgers relatively useless.

What chance does a quarterback really have to be successful when he has so little time to throw the ball? In this game, Rodgers had very little protection up front and therefore had very few positive plays to show for it. There was not a single Packers offensive lineman who wasn’t completely beaten at the line of scrimmage at least once, resulting in Rodgers literally having less than one second on multiple occasions before being forced to move.

When starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down in the first half of the game against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 4, Green Bay’s shuffled group — with T.J. Lang switching to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith entering and playing left guard — did well in the second half. But since Bulaga was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago and Lang and Dietrich-Smith’s spots became more permanent, the results have been disastrous. The Packers are now shifting their offensive line scheme a bit to assist Lang on the right side, leaving Marshall Newhouse frequently without any help on the left side. Newhouse is already a young player with several weaknesses to overcome, so he was not nearly as effective in this loss to the Giants as he had been at earlier points in the season.

The Giants sacked Rodgers five times and had seven quarterback hits, four pass deflections and an interception. Though Rodgers is not blameless in all of that, the performance of the offensive line in this game is a direct reason Green Bay finished with just 201 passing yards, a number made all the worse considering the Packers were trailing the entire game and trying to catch up.

3. Stopping the run is again a problem.

It didn’t matter if it was Andre Brown or Ahmad Bradshaw because the Giants’ running backs got pretty much anything they wanted. There was very little push by the Packers’ defensive line, an issue that became amplified once starter C.J. Wilson injured his knee and left the game.

Without Matthews in the game to seal the running backs’ left edge in the elite way that he does, it opened up more opportunities for New York’s ground game, and coach Tom Coughlin’s group took advantage of that.

The Giants racked up 147 rushing yards, with Brown averaging 4.9 yards per carry and Bradshaw averaging 5.8.

Those rushing statistics don’t even count Bradshaw’s 59-yard gain on New York’s opening drive in which he caught a short pass from Eli Manning and picked up the vast majority of those yards running in the open field. On that play, cornerback Tramon Williams — for some reason — accepted a block from a Giants player along the outside edge despite Bradshaw running down the middle. But that was just one example of what were many misplayed tackle attempts, as well as missed tackles altogether.

4. Casey Hayward might need to be on the field more.

Hayward, Green Bay’s rookie cornerback who leads the team with five interceptions, has arguably been the Packers’ second- or third-best player on defense all season, yet he didn’t start in this game. Instead, it was House who got all the snaps as the outside cornerback opposite Williams. Hayward did play slot in the nickel against the Giants, but in recent games, he had also been the outside corner.

The results from Hayward had been very impressive, so why was he suddenly behind Davon House on the depth chart? Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said two weeks ago that it was an open competition for the starting job between House, Hayward and the still-injured Sam Shields. Perhaps that battle became a closed competition this week, with House emerging victorious.

Though House has been good this season and could be a future star for the Packers, taking the play-making Hayward off the field for that many snaps seems like a questionable decision.

5. James Starks is no longer the featured running back.

One game of Starks receiving 25 carries — as he did Week 11 in Detroit — was enough to convince McCarthy that’s not an ideal situation for the team’s running game. Alex Green didn’t touch the ball in that game, but against the Giants, he had 10 rushing attempts to Starks’ eight.

Neither player performed all that well, with Starks picking up 35 yards (4.4 average) and Green finishing with 30 yards (3.0 average). Five of Starks’ carries, however, came on the Packers’ final drive once Graham Harrell was in at quarterback. So this was really Green’s game to once again prove himself to be the guy until Cedric Benson returns from his foot injury. A 3.0 average likely won’t do Green any favors, though, when McCarthy evaluates what to do for next weekend’s game.

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