As the 2010 Super Bowl MVP and 2011 NFL MVP, his greatness is unquestioned.
Still, in the ultimate team sport, even a great quarterback can’t single-handedly carry an offense on his back.
The Detroit Lions made that abundantly clear on Sunday. The Lions — even with a secondary featuring a 34-year-old veteran and a second-year pro as the starting cornerbacks, the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 options at nickel, and a backup safety from Fordham who was elevated into the starting lineup due to an injury — made Rodgers just look like just another quarterback for just another championship pretender.
In past seasons, this would have been a blowout win for the Packers. No matter how good Detroit’s defensive line is — and it’s obviously really good — that secondary would have been torched by Rodgers. Instead, coach Mike McCarthy didn’t hand Rodgers the gas can and book of matches.
“I don't think football's really that simple,” McCarthy said when asked after the game why he didn’t attack Detroit’s secondary more aggressively. “You play to what you think that your strengths are. The way we play on offense, we take advantage of the defense.”
What a telling statement. If ever there were a segment of a defense to take advantage of, it would have been the Detroit secondary. Two cornerbacks are on injured reserve and a third was inactive. Safety Don Carey, thrust into the nickel role, exited after aggravating an injured hamstring. To round out the depth chart, the Lions signed one defensive back off the street and elevated another off the practice squad. Oh, and their three-down linebacker sustained a knee injury while celebrating a sack.
And still, Rodgers finished only 16-of-27. His 162 passing yards were the second-fewest of his career in any game he started and finished. For the first time since 2008 – his first year as the Packers starter – the team didn’t have a 20-yard completion.
Among the story lines entering the game was the Packers’ reliance on Jordy Nelson. Was that a winning recipe over the long haul of the season? On Wednesday, McCarthy had grown tired of the question. After an annoyed sigh, he said, in part: “However it sorts out, at the end of the day, it’s about scoring points.”
It turns out those Nelson-centric questions were justified, because limiting Nelson was the Lions’ top priority.
“That was just our game plan, take away their best players,” young cornerback Darius Slay said. “We already knew they had a great quarterback, but our thing was to stop Jordy. We did that and made the other people beat us.”
The Packers simply don’t have the “other people” to beat a good defense.
Sure, Rodgers, Nelson and Eddie Lacy are a great starting point for any offense. But who else is a defensive coordinator losing sleep about?
Certainly, Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and his players weren’t losing too much sleep heading into Sunday’s game. After the game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell acknowledged the Packers’ quick-strike ability but said he’d take his chances with Green Bay’s offense trying to sustain drives against his powerful defense.
“It’s not an easy game,” Nelson said. “Sometimes we make it look easier than what it is, but today was not easy at all.” It’s not easy for the Packers’ offense because the Packers’ offense isn’t very good.
No disrespect to Rodgers, but he had the great benefit of having Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley as prime-time targets. As Donald Driver stepped aside, Randall Cobb stepped in. With Jennings in Minnesota, Jones in Oakland, Finley’s career apparently over and Driver enjoying retirement, one of the league’s great pass-catching groups is down to Nelson.
What has Cobb done? He’s caught 14 passes but shown little run-after-the-catch ability. That was his calling card when he flashed as a rookie in 2011 and had a breakout season in 2012. Cobb called his own performance “embarrassing” on Sunday.
“I’ve got to be better, I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to give this team more,” Cobb said, using similar versions of that sentence several times. “I’ve got to look myself in the mirror first and see what it is that I can do to help this team out.”
What has Jarrett Boykin done? He’s got more drops (three) than catches (two). He’s been a colossal disappointment after really emerging last season.
What has second-round pick Davante Adams done, other than a nice catch-and-run vs. the Jets? Rookie receivers typically have their ups and downs, but it’s clear he’s just not going to step right in and replace Jones.
Other than getting his butt kicked too often as a blocker, what has third-round tight end Richard Rodgers done? He has zero catches. Other than Andrew Quarless’ superb 10-yard touchdown catch against Detroit, what have any of the tight ends done? Brandon Bostick – the so-called “Finley-lite” at the tight end position – hasn’t played a single snap on offense in his two games on the 46-man roster.
And none of this even touches on the running game. McCarthy said “statistics are for losers” when we pointed to the run game last week. Through three games, the team has rushed for 236 yards. That equates to almost 55 yards less per game than last season.
“I think we have enough (options), I do,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to have to get some balance. We’re going to have to run the football a little more effectively to set up some of the play-action stuff. And we’re going to have to do a better job of adjusting some of our route concepts. If teams are going to play us two high and go back to some of the ways they did in 2011, really rolling coverage to one receiver, we’re going to have to run the ball more effectively. We haven’t done it the first three games.”
None of this means the Packers’ are up a creek without an offensive paddle for the rest of the season. Rodgers is Rodgers. By his own admission, he’s not happy with his accuracy. He’s too good for that to not improve. Cobb figures to get in gear sooner than later. Adams will continue to progress. All Boykin needed last season was a couple catches against Cleveland to turn him into a season-long factor. Maybe Rodgers or Bostick will provide a threat at tight end. There’s no reason to expect the running game to remain such a nonfactor.
“We haven’t been as sharp offensively,” Rodgers said. “I haven’t been as sharp maybe (compared to) the standard I’ve set. We’ve all got to do better. We’ve got to adjust better, we’ve got to throw it better, we’ve got to catch better. We’ve got to score points.”
And they will. It just might be a while.
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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.