Against San Diego, the Green Bay Packers gave up more than 500 yards but held the Chargers to 20 points. With that, they shot to No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed per game.
Now, after giving up 66 points in back-to-back losses at Denver and Carolina — two undefeated teams, true, but two teams that are not offensive juggernauts — Green Bay has fallen to No. 12.
What’s going on?
— The pass rush has evaporated. After an NFL-high 42 consecutive games with a sack, the Packers haven’t gotten home the past two games. Moreover, they have just five quarterback hits in those games. At Denver, the lack of a pass rush was because of the Broncos having too many third-and-shorts. Not so against Carolina. Of 15 third-down plays, the Panthers had 6-plus yards to go on 11 of them.
— The secondary has faltered. Sam Shields, who sustained a shoulder injury on the second drive at Denver, didn’t play on Sunday. Coupled with Quinten Rollins’ neck injury from the Denver game, Green Bay started Sunday with Casey Hayward and first-round pick Damarious Randall in its base package with seldom-used Demetri Goodson entering in nickel situations. Hayward sustained a concussion with about 5 minutes to go in the third quarter vs. Carolina, though Green Bay allowed one score in the six possessions without him.
That Green Bay kept Carolina’s offense out of third-and-short should have been a big victory, especially against Newton, a 54.2 percent passer entering the game, and his below-average group of receivers. Instead, Newton hit Jerricho Cotchery for 59 yards against a busted eight-man coverage on third-and-7 to put the Panthers in position for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead. Instead, on third-and-7 late in the first half, the Panthers picked up a blitz and Newton hit Corey Brown for a 39-yard touchdown. Instead, on third-and-7, Jonathan Stewart ran for 8 yards to turn a long field-goal attempt into a chip shot. Instead, on third-and-8, Newton took a three-step drop and fired a pass to Devin Funchess, who drug Randall the final 5 yards for a 14-yard touchdown and a 37-14 lead.
Newton finished with a passer rating of 104.4 after entering the day at 78.1. A week earlier, Peyton Manning’s rating was 96.9 after entering that game with a mark of 72.5. That stands in contrast to the first six games, when Green Bay’s pass defense held opponent passers to a lower rating than their mark entering the game. Through six games, Green Bay’s passer rating differential was plus-42.5 — the best in the league with Aaron Rodgers at 115.9 and opponents at 73.4.
Now, Green Bay is plus-29.0 — still impressive but Rodgers is down to 108.2 and opponents are up to 79.0, with San Diego’s Philip Rivers, Manning and Newton at a combined 100.2 the last three games.
On the bright side, Green Bay’s run defense played well. Carolina’s rushing attack entered the game averaging a top-ranked 144.0 yards per game and a 10th-ranked 4.3 yards per carry. The Packers limited that to 130 yards and 3.6 yards per attempt. Plus, rookie Jake Ryan replaced Nate Palmer at inside linebacker in the second quarter and turned in a team-high 10 tackles. Also, by our count, this was one of the Packers’ top tackling performances of the season, with five missed tackles after averaging 10.4 in the first seven games.
“We’re fine,” was Julius Peppers’ assessment of the team at the midpoint of the season.
Why the optimism?
“It’s still the same guys,” he said. “We just haven’t been playing well. We’ll get it turned around. Yu’re going to lose games, you’re going to have tough games where you don’t play well. We happened to have two of them in a row right now. We can get through this.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.