Can Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers' offense find the answers?
This is no Chicken Little column, and it's not about one absolute stinker overpowering the sweet perfume of a 13-0 start to the season.
Rather, it's the continuation of a trend that's become rather troubling.
In Sunday's 19-14 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, Rodgers completed 17-of-35 passes (48.6 percent) for 235 yards, with a season-low one touchdown. Last week against Oakland, Rodgers completed 17-of-30 passes (56.7 percent) for 281 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. The week before that against the New York Giants, Rodgers put up big numbers but completed 60.9 percent.
Here's the point. After completing 76.7 percent of his passes in a 45-7 thumping of Minnesota on Nov. 14, Rodgers was on pace to set the NFL single-season record for completion percentage with 72.9 percent marksmanship through nine games. He had five games in which he completed at least three-quarters of his passes.
In the last five games, Rodgers has seen his completion percentage drop bit by bit by bit every week, from the 76.7 against the Vikings to 67.6 percent against Tampa Bay, to 66.7 percent against Detroit, to the aforementioned 60.9 percent against the Giants, 56.7 percent against the Raiders and 48.6 percent against the Chiefs. Rodgers, who had passer ratings of at least 111 in each of the first 11 games, had a 106.2 against the Giants, 96.7 against the Raiders and 80.1 against the Chiefs. After throwing three interceptions in the first nine games, he's got three in the last five.
None of this is meant as overreaction. Every team in the league plays a bad game or two during the season. The Packers played their bad game on Sunday. There's a reason, after all, why only one team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, went undefeated in the regular season and won the Super Bowl. There's a reason, after all, why only the 2007 Patriots went undefeated in the regular season. There's a reason, after all, why only four teams have even finished 15-1.
Still, the book on slowing down the Packers' offense has been written.
"Copycat league," tight end Jermichael Finley said.
The Chiefs wrote a master's thesis on Sunday, with Tamba Hali recording three sacks and the Chiefs' talented defensive backs giving the Packers' receivers little breathing room.
The key is to rush the passer without having to send blitzers, because Rodgers and his receivers destroy the blitz. The Raiders and Giants, who entered the weekend ranked sixth and eighth in the league, respectively, in sacks, did just that. Oakland recorded four sacks, and while New York had only two, the Packers allowed season highs in quarterback hits (five) and pressures (12), according to ProFootballFocus.com. The Chiefs entered the game ranked 28th in sacks with 23, but 14 had come in the previous four games. They added four more to that total against Green Bay, three of which came after backup right tackle Derek Sherrod sustained a broken leg with about 11 minutes remaining.
"Their front is amazing," receiver Donald Driver said. "We said it all week long that their front seven is truly something special."
With the Chiefs able to apply quick pressure with their front four, they could play press-man at the line and put seven defenders in coverage. The Packers' receivers were unable to consistently beat the Chiefs' defensive backs before the Chiefs' rushers beat the Packers' blockers.
It added up to an unusual feeling for a team that hadn't lost in 364 days.
"It still sucks. It's still not a fun feeling," Rodgers said. "It's nice to go a calendar year without having to feel like this. But we finished off the season 7-1 on the road and we've got two home games to finish it out, Chicago and Detroit, and hopefully we'll get to a point where we're playing the way we want to play going into the home playoff game."
"Hopefully," indeed, because the Packers haven't playing with their usual offensive efficiency for the last several weeks. With a shaky offensive line and suspect defense, it'll be up to Rodgers — more than ever — to turn this great season into a Super season.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.