After back-to-back disappointing losses, the Packers are below .500 and poised to miss the playoffs with a healthy Aaron Rodgers for the first time since 2008. Everybody wants someone to blame, but the end conclusion seems pretty simple. It’s an Occam’s Razor explanation (meaning the simplest solution is likely right), the Packers just aren’t that good. It’s a painful sentence to write, given how high my hopes and the hopes of most fans were entering the year. Their a good but far-from-great team that appears to be slugging through the weeks. Here’s what to know about the Packers after eight games.
1. Defensive Strength
The Packers’ defense has been far from perfect, but they’ve been better than the offense the past couple weeks. The defense held the Patriots in check in the first half, even making a goal line stand and recovering from a questionable roughing the kicker call. They let up a few big plays late en route to a final tally of 31 New England points, but for the second week in a row the defense held the opponent at bay long enough to give Aaron Rodgers and company time to work. Problem is, that time hasn’t meant a whole lot. If the team as a whole is hard to watch at times, at least Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson are playing well. Alexander is a defensive rookie of the year candidate and has the look of a perennial pro-bowler if he can stay healthy.
2. Bland Offense
The Packers offense might be the most boring in football. They do nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that seems to catch a defense off guard. In my last piece I called them stale, I stand by that. They rely on winning on talent alone, while seemingly every other team tries to outsmart the competition while also capitalizing on talent differentials. The Packers are predictable, slow paced, and entirely dependent on the backyard tactics of Aaron Rodgers. Seems fair to say we haven’t seen a high functioning Packers offense since the last minute win in Dallas just over a year ago. Something’s gotta give, because this team is more predictable than a Hallmark movie.
3. Aaron Jones is a star
I say this every week and will continue to do so until he’s treated like it by the team. Aaron Jones is a stud running back. His lost fumble Sunday was a game changer, but so too were his bevy of great runs. He consistently breaks off chunk yardage and seems to generate open lanes out of thin air. He’s averaging 6.0 yards a carry on 58 carries, which is an unreal mark for an NFL back, and is even more staggering compared to Jamaal Williams’ 3.8 yards per carry on 70 rushes with the same offense. The limitations McCarthy and the rest of the coaches appear to place on Jones is baffling and inexplicable. He deserves 15 to 20 touches per game. He hit that mark Sunday, with 14 rushes and two catches, but he’s fallen short in every other game. That needs to change.
4. Two Clear Losses
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this Packer season is the manner in which they’ve lost. They are 3-4-1, but very easily could be sitting at 6-2. Save for their losses to New England and Washington, every loss or tie has been due to brutal errors, be it Clay Matthews being called for roughing the passer, Mason Crosby kicking like he bet against the team, or Ty Montgomery fumbling a game away. As a fan it’s difficult. What would you prefer, a heartbreaking loss or a no doubter? When the heartbreak happens more often than not one can be forgiven for preferring a clear loss like this week to the agony of the week prior. Make no mistake though, if those three things had changed (no roughing the passer, a few made kicks, and a touchback instead of a fumble) the Packers would be considered a Super Bowl favorite, as it is we look at them like dead-men walking.
5. New England’s Offense
One of the funniest tweets I’ve seen in a long-time proposed to build the perfect quarterback. You’d have Rodgers’ accuracy, Favre’s arm strength, Michael Vick’s speed, etc. The best part? You’d have Tom Brady’s defense and coaching. The Patriots pulled out trick plays, changed up speed, and never let the Packers catch their breath. If the Green Bay defense succeeded, New England changed things up and exploited any weakness they could find. That goes well beyond the brilliance of Tom Brady, consistent and good as he is. If the Packers’ offense more predictable than a Hallmark movie, the Patriots are less predictable than Game of Thrones. The Patriots offense is fun to watch, and it would scare the daylights out of the NFL to put the creative genius of that offense together with Aaron Rodgers’ talent.
6. Trade Results
It’s hard to make a case against the Haha Clinton-Dix or Ty Montgomery trades. Haha was inconsistent and a locker room headache and Ty Montgomery was the worst of our running backs and said he didn’t trust his teammates. The Packers pulled in some draft picks rather than simply losing both players to free agency and they’re better for it. Some have complained about our safety play, but Tramon Williams played effectively in place of Haha and it’s not as though the presence of Clinton-Dix or Montgomery will remotely swing games in the Packers’ favor. I for one, am happy with how the team handled the trade deadline.
7. Any Hope for 2018?
If there is hope for 2018 it certainly is fleeting. The Packers are on pace to win fewer games this year, with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, than they did a year ago. To make the playoffs they probably need to go 7-1 over the remaining eight games, if not 8-0. That’s no small task. Currently, the Bears, Vikings, Rams, Seahawks, Saints, Panthers, Falcons, Redskins, and Eagles all have better records than the Packers. Making the playoffs isn’t impossible, but it’ll make the 6-0 finish in 2014 after Rodgers’ “run the table” remark seem like child’s play.
8. Officially aboard the Anti-McCarthy Train
I’ve often defended Mike McCarthy in seasons past, and I certainly don’t think that he’s to blame for every issue the Packers have. But the past two seasons don’t reflect kindly on him in any fashion, and his reluctance to fire Dom Capers prior to this past offseason likely cost the Packers several wins and potentially a couple trips to the Super Bowl. Simply put, he has to go. The team is sluggish, undisciplined, and predictable. There are coaches out there who could improve the team and add a fresh wave of energy. Be it pulling Bruce Arians out of retirement, luring Josh McDaniels (the Patriots’ offensive Coordinator and heir-apparent to Bill Belichick) away from New England, or giving Jim Harbaugh another chance in the NFL, there are more than a few options the Packers could (and should) consider.
9. What’s up in Week 10
The Packers host the Dolphins in Week 10. I’d say it should be an easy win, but I thought that before San Francisco came to town and took the Packers to the limit. A loss would feel like a death knell to the season, though they could still, hypothetically, go 7-0 to finish things out. Pretty much every game from here on out is a playoff game for the Packers. It would be more than encouraging to see them not just win against the Dolphins, but come out strong and dominate on offense like we haven’t seen all year. Hope is little more than a faint whisper for the team, but here’s dreaming it lives on at least one more week.