This year's team ranks a respectable eighth in scoring, but its 23.8 points per game trails the three-year average of 27.4 by more than a field goal per game.
It's a short leap to see that three-point difference and consider that the Packers could be 5-0 rather than 3-2, considering that both of their losses have come on last-play field goals.
For as poorly as the Packers appear to be playing on offense, what will it take to raise their level of play from just good enough to lose close games to just good enough to win close games?
Clean it up
Last week at Washington, Packers receivers officially dropped six passes, according to STATS. In the first four games combined, the Packers' pass-catchers had three drops.
"I didn't realize how many drops we had until we landed here in Green Bay," said receiver Greg Jennings, who didn't have any of the drops. "I talked to (offensive quality control coach) John Rushing and I'm like, ‘How many drops did we have?' He said seven, and then you start kind of looking at yourself and you're like, ‘What did I do?' You can't win with seven drops. I mean, if you do, you're barely getting by. We just can't do that. We're too talented of a group."
Only one drop was a killer, though. It came on third-and-1 from the Redskins' 29-yard line late in the third quarter. The Packers had dialed up the perfect call against the defense they expected. Aaron Rodgers slung a dart down the left side that old reliable Donald Driver should have hauled in at the Redskins' 12. Instead, Driver dropped the ball. "It was killer, terrible," Driver said after the game. "I'll be the first one to say I can make those plays in my sleep." On fourth down, Mason Crosby missed from 48 yards. Had Driver made the catch, the Packers would have been poised to take a 20-3 lead. At worst, Crosby would have had a chip-shot kick to make it 16-3.
Beyond the drops, there are the penalties (38; tied for the sixth-most), turnovers (10 in five games compared to 16 all of last season) and the missed assignments (such as rookie Bryan Bulaga blowing a stunt on Rodgers' overtime interception).
"When given the opportunity to make a play, you want to win your one-on-one battle," Jennings said. "Are you going to win your one-on-one battle every single play? Probably not. The other guy across from you, he's a pretty doggone good player, too. But at the same time, if we can collectively as a whole, 11 guys, if you've got 11 guys winning the one-on-one battle 85 percent of the game, you're going to win. Period. But if you have six or seven of those guys winning their one-on-one battle and the next four or five aren't, it's tough to win."
Added offensive coordinator Joe Philbin: "I just think our execution and our attention to our fundamentals, we've got to be better. Holding onto the ball, like Donald Lee (his first-drive fumble), the drops, that's fundamentals. That's not just coach-talk. If you don't have six drops and you don't give the ball away right there, it might be different."
A team with Rodgers and a deep corps of wide receivers should be money on third down. Instead, after a third-ranked third-down conversation rate of 47 percent last year, the Packers rank 17th with a conversation rate of 39 percent this year.
The difference is in the passing game. Rodgers led the NFL with a third-down passer rating of 133.5 last season, with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. This year, his rating is just 65.6, with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Of course, success on third down means success on first and second down. That means limiting mistakes and lost-yardage plays.
"I think anything 5 or under (on third down) is good," Philbin said. "You know how we chart winning the down, first down is 4, second down is half and in a perfect world you'd always be in third-and-2, third-and-3. I think when we get 5 or 6 and under that, boy, if they want to overload blitz you and you get the ball out and they break and tackle you, you're probably still going to have a chance to make a first down. If you get into third-and-8s and -9s and -11s and they force you into a hot throw and tackle you after 6 yards and you punt the ball, or they're dropping eight or nine guys off and you're sitting there holding the ball. I think if you can keep it 5 or 6, obviously, you'd like it to be less, but if you keep it in that area, you're in pretty good shape."
Run after the catch
The hallmark of the Packers' receivers over the years is their ability to produce prodigious amounts of yards after the catch. In 2006, the Packers had 2,161 YAC. In 2007, it was 2,294 YAC. In Rodgers' first year, 2008, YAC fell to 1,656, but they rebounded last year with 2,190 YAC.
This year, Green Bay is a woeful 18th with 455 yards after the catch. While 49 percent of Rodgers' passing yards came after the catch last year, that figure is just 37 percent this season.
"I wish I could" pinpoint the problem, Philbin said. "We emphasize a lot of things in terms of making the first guy miss, protecting the football, splitting the defense, attacking — we call it attacking the triangle. Once you catch the ball, secure the ball, getting vertical and trying to square up on the defender as opposed to dancing and always cutting away from the pursuit necessarily, kind of challenging a guy's technique, so to speak. We still work on that. We worked it on it yesterday in the drill period."
Jennings and Driver have a history of open-field runs but they haven't broken loose this year. Asked why he hasn't gotten the ball on short crossing routes or slants, Jennings shook his head and said he didn't know. Perhaps with Jermichael Finley's injury, the coaches will take a look at what worked in the past because what they're doing now isn't working.
Finish like you start
The Packers have been a dominant team in the first and third quarters. In the first quarter, they've outscored opponents 34-3. In the third quarter, the margin is 38-13. The fourth quarter, however, has been a disaster, with opponents holding a 39-14 edge. In the fourth quarter last week, when one score might have put the game out of reach, the Packers went punt, punt, punt and the 53-yard missed field goal.
That inability to finish is the striking connection between this season and 2008, when the Packers were statistically strong but finished 6-10.
In the last three games, when the Packers stumbled at Chicago, almost blew the game against Detroit and then gave away the game at Washington, the Packers had 11 possessions in the fourth quarter and in overtime. They have scored one touchdown — Rodgers' scramble on the opening series of the fourth quarter at Chicago — but four turnovers. Rodgers' fourth-quarter passer rating is 65.5 compared to 98.3 in the first half.
"We didn't play well the last 6 minutes of the game (at Washington)," Philbin said, "However, we did move the ball 44 yards and had a chance to win the game. Those are just facts. I'm not blaming anybody because we didn't play very well. But facts are it wasn't like we totally went into a shutdown. It's disappointing when, in the last 6 minutes and overtime, you have two penalties, you have a giveaway and you have two sacks and you gift-wrapped it for them.
"We've been very good coming out of the gate in the second half, very productive, but we've got to play better in the fourth quarter, there's no question about it. When the game's on the line, you can't let guys run through the A gap, you can't have penalties that put you in a second-and-14 and you can't throw the ball to the other team. It's simplistic. It‘s troublesome and bothersome."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.