Christmas is the season for miracles.
The start of a new year means a fresh start.
So, I suppose there’s reason for hope for the Green Bay Packers. However, Sunday’s 38-8 debacle against Arizona confirmed the worst fears about this team.
The offense is broken beyond repair. As my dad would have said, that group is so far down that it would have to reach up to touch bottom.
The defense isn’t bad but its fifth-in-the-league ranking in points against was built against a bunch of mediocre offenses.
Maybe the Packers will beat the Vikings on Sunday night to earn a first-round home game. Maybe playing at home will allow the Packers to win one playoff game. But given the dysfunctional state of the offense and the inability to play winning defensive football against excellent quarterbacks, it would take the miracle of miracles to put together a strong postseason run that takes this team into February. Seriously, why should there be any reason for hope that the Packers could return to Arizona for a divisional-round game in three weeks and change the outcome?
“We don’t hope,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said defiantly.
Getting healthy would be a start, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said in stating the obvious starting point. Left tackle David Bakhtiari had turned in one strong performance after another over the past couple of months. Without him, the offense didn’t have a prayer against the Cardinals’ excellent defense. To expect Don Barclay to turn in a winning performance at left tackle is sheer lunacy. It’s a position manned by one first-round pick after another around the league. That’s the kind of athleticism it takes to win at that spot. Still, if there’s not a better backup plan on the roster, you sure as hell better get the man some help. And then right tackle Bryan Bulaga went down. Again. The predictable result? Rodgers was knocked around like a pinball.
Injuries are nothing but excuses, though. The Cardinals had 10 interceptions sitting on the bench without defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson but hardly missed a beat in holding the Packers to a mere 77 net passing yards. Injuries had nothing to do with Rodgers throwing a bad interception following Mike Daniels’ interception. Injuries had nothing to do with James Starks fumbling for the fourth time in four games. Injuries had nothing to do with Arizona’s Calais Campbell splitting a double-team block attempt by Corey Linsley and T.J. Lang to sack Rodgers. Injuries had nothing to do with Davante Adams letting a touchdown pass float right through his hands on a fourth-and-goal.
“We’re professionals,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to hold ourselves to a high standard and play better. Everybody’s got to play better. I can’t turn the ball over that many times, we have to protect better, we have to catch it better and we have to do better on third downs.”
When Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL in the preseason, the hope was that the greatness of Rodgers and a powerful and experienced offensive line would keep the offense near the top of the charts. Instead, the offense has regressed on almost a weekly basis. Green Bay’s 2.8 yards per play vs. Arizona was the third-worst figure in the entire league this season. In Rodgers’ first seven seasons as the starting quarterback, Green Bay’s average ranking for total offense was 6.9 and third downs was 5.7. It entered this week’s game ranked 21st in total offense and 24th in third-down efficiency — figures that surely will fall another spot or two.
“There's been a lot of frustration in here in recent weeks, especially offensively,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We're just not carrying our weight right now. It's hard to find optimism in that, to be honest with you.”
Defensively, the Packers entered the game having allowed 18.9 points per game. The Cardinals had 17 points — not to mention 260 yards — in the first half alone. When Starks fumbled to start the second half, a great defense would have held the Cardinals to a field goal. Instead, the Packers gave up a two-play touchdown drive that made it 24-0. Given the inept state of the Packers’ offense, the game was over.
So, here we are with the finish line in sight. The Packers are 10-5. In three games against elite teams — at Denver, at Carolina and at Arizona — they’ve been smashed by a combined 104-47. To get to the Super Bowl — which is the goal, after all — the Packers are going to have to go on the road and beat those kind of teams. It’s hard envision that happening.
“That’s the beauty of the NFL,” Rodgers said. “Teams match up differently against different teams and find sources of inspiration along the way in various ways. We have to do that. Over the years, we’ve had ups and downs at different times in the season and galvanized over an idea or a belief. You have to have leadership step up this week. Everything’s still in front of us as far as winning the division. We’ve just got to hold serve, if you will, next week at home and give us a chance to win a playoff game at home and come right back here and beat a good football team.”
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.
Packers Need More Than Hope; They Need Miracle
Christmas is the season for miracles.