Playmakers Wanted

Without Aaron Rodgers to lift everyone else, everyone else must elevate their level of play if the Packers are to salvage this season. The Packers didn't play a bad game against the Giants, but nobody on offense could break a tackle, nobody on defense could make a JPP-style play and nobody could take advantage of the Giants' putrid special teams.

The day after every game, the Green Bay Packers' offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators emerge from their offices to talk to reporters outside the locker room.

Fittingly, as this season gets closer and closer to spiraling down the drain, those conversations take place near a fire alarm.

The Packers have lost three consecutive games. At 5-5, their playoff hopes are on life support heading into Sunday's home game against woeful Minnesota.

Offensively, coordinator Tom Clements spoke of the great individual plays made by Giants defenders Jason Pierre-Paul and Jon Beason on second-half interceptions. Defensively, that's what's been lacking all season for coordinator Dom Capers' unit. The Packers are on pace to force 14 turnovers, which would be the fewest in franchise history.

Simply put, the Packers have a three-alarm need for someone — anyone — to make a game-changing play.

In his first NFL start, Scott Tolzien was money on his downfield throws. He was 5-of-5 on passes thrown at least 18 yards downfield. But the Packers needed more. Early in the second quarter, Tolzien hit Jordy Nelson for 25 and James Jones for 45 on back-to-back plays but they couldn't turn those long passes into bigger plays. The drive stalled and the Packers settled for a short field goal.

In the third quarter, Tolzien converted a third-and-6 with a 29-yard completion to Nelson. One play later, he threw a bad interception to Beason. In the fourth quarter, after Pierre-Paul's touchdown, Nelson got just 1 yard after the catch on third-and-12, settled for an 11-yard gain and the Packers punted.

The Giants missed just three tackles — a shocking number given Eddie Lacy's power and the run-after-catch proficiency of the Packers' receivers during the season. Credit the Giants' defense but Green Bay's playmakers must make a play.

Perhaps coach Mike McCarthy should have unleashed Tolzien, given how the Giants filled the box with defenders to render Lacy a nonfactor, but how much of a leash do you give to a player making his first NFL start? Eventually, McCarthy adjusted — the Packers dialed up 11 passes and nine runs in the first half but 25 passes and 11 runs in the second.

"We have a plan based on the personal that we have. Not just the quarterback, but everyone involved," Clements said. "Obviously, you make adjustments during the course of the game as needed. It just took us a while to get going. We weren't productive running the ball as much as we would have liked. But we made some big plays down the field,had a lot of passing yardage. I mean, so what? We had a lot of passing yardage. We didn't score points."

The offense didn't score points and the defense didn't make plays. Sure, Tramon Williams finally got an interception and turned in his second consecutive outstanding game in coverage. The defense probably played well enough to win had Aaron Rodgers been at quarterback, but "well enough" isn't good enough under these circumstances. Beason and Pierre-Paul made the kind of plays that win games. The Packers?

Green Bay got four sacks but couldn't force a fumble. Davon House had a chance for an interception but couldn't make the play. Clay Matthews got his hands on two passes but the ball didn't bounce the Packers' way. Inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones and safeties Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings seem incapable of making a splash play. Green Bay's formerly rugged run defense couldn't stop a pair of fourth-down runs.

"We'd like to make more plays all across the board," Capers said when asked specifically about Burnett. "Probably our biggest Achilles' heel is we haven't been able to get the takeaways that we've always gotten. I don't think there's really much difference in our pass-rush numbers, but there's a big difference in our takeaway numbers. And takeaways influence the game so much."

The special teams, meanwhile, give away field position like Ben Stein used to give away money. The Giants entered the game ranked 26th on kickoff returns, 28th on punt returns, 30th on opponent kickoff returns and 31st on punt returns. Rather than provide a lift for a team badly in need of one, Green Bay's return and coverage units spent the afternoon running around in circles.

On six kickoffs, the Packers' average starting point was the 18-yard line. There was a holding penalty by Jamari Lattimore on a kickoff return; starting from their 13, the Packers punted. And there was an illegal block by House on a punt return; starting from their 30, Tolzien was intercepted by Pierre-Paul for a pivotal touchdown.

Without the threat of Randall Cobb, wouldn't the Packers be better served taking a knee on every kickoff that reaches the end zone?

"We don't want to start inside the 20 and we don't want to run uphill and we need to have more production in that," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said.

So, it's come down to this: Without Rodgers to lift everyone else, everyone else must elevate their level of play. They've failed to do that the last three weeks. It has to happen against the Vikings.

Or else.

"Extremely important football game this week," McCarthy said. "Our team meeting just concluded and it's a division game, it's a home game. We've had two home games get away from us. Part of the formula for success obviously in any football season is win your home games. Our record is obviously 5-5. We need to play better, we need to perform better, we need to prepare better. This is a very, very accountable football team. It's an enjoyable team to coach, we're just not quite where we need to be right now."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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