Perimeter Passing Game Searching for the Right Connection

Brett Favre had his moment. Bart Starr did, too, possibly for one last time at Lambeau Field. But for the Packers’ current superstar quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, it turned out to be a night of introspection to forget. Wide receivers James Jones and Davante Adams had perhaps their worst game of the season together and the Packers were stunned for a second straight home game on a rainy Thanksgiving night.

They say the first step is admitting there is a problem. By that thinking, this was about as close as Aaron Rodgers has gotten.

After another perplexing game for the Green Bay Packers’ passing game – this time against the rival Chicago Bears, on a night Brett Favre was honored, no less – Rodgers and his outside receiving targets looked as lost as ever. Despite a strong output from the ground attack, which produced a season-high 177 yards, and the screen passing game, the Packers came up short on their final comeback drive. Four straight incomplete passes from the 8-yard line with less than a minute remaining sealed the Bears’ 17-13 victory.

“We didn’t win on the perimeter and we didn’t have anywhere to go with the football is what I saw,” summed up Packers coach Mike McCarthy of the final fateful plays.

Really, that was the story the entire night for the Packers, who dropped to 7-4 and 2-2 within the NFC North Division. Wide receiver James Jones, who caught six passes for 109 yards Sunday at Minnesota, failed to catch a single pass in six targets against the Bears. And Davante Adams was only two catches better but in 11 targets. His slightly higher catch percentage hardly offered the Packers a winning formula.

Each receiver had a chance to be a hero on the final plays for the Packers’ offense. But Adams failed to come up with a bullet of a pass in the end zone contested by Bears’cornerback Bryce Callahan on the final fourth-down play. And one play before, Jones saw a potential game-winner slip through his hands, too.

“I dropped it. Period,” said Jones. “It sucks, man. You let your team down. We had an opportunity to win the game, and I dropped the ball.”

Brisk, rainy conditions offered no excuses, either, on an evening that put ball security at a premium from the start.

“We’re receivers. Catch the ball,” said Jones. “Their receivers were catching it.”

Based largely on the missed opportunities with Jones and Adams – a combined 15 incompletions and just 14 receiving yards – the Packers got next to nothing on the outside. At 62.4, Rodgers posted his worst passer rating in 62 career games at Lambeau Field as a starter. Even worse, he was outplayed by the Bears’ Jay Cutler, who posted a pedestrian 90.8 passer rating to earn a postgame turkey leg from NBC.

Rodgers also threw just his fourth interception of the season when Tracy Porter jumped an unconvincing route by Adams that resulted in killing another promising late drive.

“It was a basic route,” said McCarthy. “It didn’t look like it was a very good route – I didn’t have a very good perspective on it. There was a collision with the defender (safety Chris Prosinski) about 6, 7 yards down the field and that’s the result of it.”

By unofficial count, Adams had three dropped passes for the game. His most damning came on a third-and-11 in the first quarter when he came open in the middle of the field and dropped what could have been a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown. And even on his most critical catch of the night – a third-and-7 conversion that got the Packers down to the 8 on the final drive – he bobbled Rodgers’ throw before securing it going to the ground.

“He didn’t have a very good day today,” said McCarthy. “The practices, the preparation, I don’t see an issue, but the carryover, the consistency that we’re getting from certain areas, it needs to pick up. Too many mental errors. We’ve just got to keep working and we definitely need to get better as we go into Detroit.”

Returning from an ankle injury following the bye week, Adams has just 230 yards receiving (10 yards per catch) over the last five games as a starter. He did have a career-high 10 catches against the Lions on Nov. 15 but that came on 21 targets against a Lions secondary depleted by injuries.

Jones has fared even worse, not counting last week’s magical “hoodie” game at Minnesota. In the other four games after the bye, he has just 59 yards on three catches in 16 targets.

The Packers have few options for personnel changes in their multiple-receiver sets. With Jordy Nelson on injured reserve and Jeff Janis relegated to a limited role on offense, Jones and Adams have to produce. Receivers Ty Montgomery and Jared Abbrederis – both inactive because of injury Thursday night – have primarily served slot receiver roles when healthy.

“It’s a different year. Different personnel,” said Rodgers. “You know, it’s frustrating because we shouldn’t have some of those issues 11 games in. But we’re having those. (This was a) short week. Now we have a normal week and then a break, so this will be an important time for us to (play) a team that’s playing well, Detroit. They beat us and they’ve been playing well the last couple of weeks. We’re going to have to go in there and get a win.”

Rodgers’ 202 yards passing was his lowest in a home game since an Oct. 2 Thursday nighter against the Vikings last season. It was not the night he, nor the Packers, for that matter, were looking for with their two other legendary quarterbacks on hand.

“I just think that I’m obviously going to have to make sure that my preparation is as high as it’s ever been because we’ve got to get on the same page in the passing game,” said Rodgers. “The run game has been better the last couple of weeks. Obviously, Eddie (Lacy) being healthy has helped.

“We’re just on different pages. When you miss throws, when I’m throwing at a certain depth and the receiver’s running a certain depth, obviously we’re on different pages, so we need to have some better communication and make sure there’s not those discrepancies in the depths and the adjustments.”

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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