Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy might not be interested in “style points” but it’s clear his offense must start scoring more points if they’re going to upset the Arizona Cardinals to jump-start a playoff run.
Sunday’s game at Arizona might be the biggest challenge of the season for the Packers. The Cardinals, who rank No. 1 in yards and No. 2 in points, have been winning with “style points” throughout the season. With two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers had combined style points and scoreboard points countless times in seasons past. Not this year, however. While Green Bay beat Oakland 30-20 last week, the offense managed only 293 yards – the third time in five games it was held to 320 or fewer yards. The defense scored one touchdown and set up another, and strong special-teams play put the offense in position for 13 more points. Only once did Green Bay drive more than 53 yards to score points.
The Packers (10-4) are going to have to do better than that to upset the Cardinals (12-2) and stay in the race for the No. 2 seed and stay in control of the NFC North race.
“This week’s theme is take control. It covers all the bases, both personally and professionally,” McCarthy said. “It’s really take control of what you can control. And we have a great opportunity to go beat an excellent football team that we’re very confident that we’re going to go out there and win the game.”
To do so, the Packers simply must start playing better – and consistently better – on offense. The passing offense, in particular, hasn’t been beating teams with the regularity of past seasons. During Aaron Rodgers’ first seven seasons as Green Bay’s starting quarterback, the Packers’ average pass-game ranking was 6.6. This season, as they’ve struggled to cope with the preseason loss of star receiver Jordy Nelson, they are 26th.
After the Packers beat the Raiders, Rodgers didn’t try to hide his disappointment, saying only, “No,” when asked if he was happy about the offense’s performance.
“We just hold ourselves to such a high standard,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “It was frustrating to not be able to finish that game off the right way. We were 1-for-5 on red-zone opportunities, (4-of-13) on third downs. That’s just making it tough for us. And as well as our defense played, that should have been a three-score victory for us. I think when you set the bar high and you have high expectations, sometimes even a double-digit win can feel disappointing at times.”
Even with a vastly improved defense – the Packers’ No. 5 ranking in scoring defense is their best since finishing No. 2 when winning the Super Bowl in 2010 – the offense is going to have to improve if the Packers are going to make a postseason run. Doing so starts with better production on third down. Green Bay ranks 24th in third-down efficiency after never ranking outside the top 10 with Rodgers at quarterback.
Incredibly, considering the combination of quarterback, running backs and offensive line, the Packers rank just 31st with a 48 percent conversion rate on third-and-1. They are better on fourth-and-1, converting 66.7 percent of the time (4-of-6).
That includes ranking 31st on third-and-1 with a move-the-chains rate of 48 percent.
“We need to do a better job on third down,” McCarthy said. “We’ve converted some fourth downs, too, which in my mind are short-yardage situations. I’m not scratching my head. We have a good plan this week, and we need to practice it today. Today is the day for short yardage and red zone, and we’ll get ready for Sunday.”
Still, McCarthy likes the Packers’ chances. While the offense has fallen off dramatically this season, the improvement on defense and special teams has picked up most of the slack.
“This football team, this is a very balanced football team,” he said. “The offense has the ability to beat you, the defense can beat you and the special teams can definitely make an impact. I don’t know if I could have always stood up here and said that in the past. So that’s what I believe in, that’s how we’re coaching the team and I feel strongly that our players believe in it.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.