Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY

When Strengths Become Weaknesses, the Seats Get Hotter for Packers

The Packers are unraveling before our very eyes as longtime strengths have become weaknesses. Third down? Turnovers? Fast starts? All of those strengths have vanished.

The heat under the seats has been cranked up.

The Green Bay Packers lost to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Given the bruised-and-battered state of the Packers, with nine preferred starters out before or during the game, this wasn’t exactly a colossal upset.

Rather, what’s noteworthy is how the Packers lost. Style points don’t show up in the standings but they do matter. The Packers showed some style in losing to the Falcons two weeks ago. The arrow seemed pointed up, at least a little, after the game. The Packers showed no style in losing to the Titans on Sunday. The arrow is pointed down. Straight down.

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It’s fair to ask, as we did last week, whether heads are going to roll — with Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy, one of the league’s most respected tandems until this season, at the front of the line.

You saw the game, so there’s no reason to hammer away in detail on all the gory details. The inability to take advantage of the Titan’s onside-kick gamble. The inability to answer not only the Titans’ first touchdown but their second touchdown. The inability to further swing the momentum after Green Bay scored touchdowns to pull within 21-7 and 35-22. There were busts in coverage. A muffed punt return. The stupid penalties.

What’s alarming is the Packers’ weaknesses remain weaknesses and their strengths have become weaknesses.

— Seriously, 21-0 in the first quarter and 35-16 at halftime? In 2014, the Packers’ led their opponents 151-58 after the first quarter and 310-146 at halftime. Those are averages of 9.4-3.6 after one quarter and 19.4-9.1 after one half. Even last year, when their offense fell apart as the season progressed, the Packers outscored their opponents 106-45 in the first quarter. In other words, the Packers used to be as sharp as any team to start games. Now? Not so much.

20 GRUESOME NUMBERS IN OUR WEEKLY POSTGAME FEATURE

— The five best seasons in terms of giveaways in franchise history have come under McCarthy, with a franchise-record 13 in 2014, 14 in 2011, 16 in 2009 and 2012 and 17 last season. The Packers used to be incredibly careful with the ball. Now? Not so much. With three more turnovers on Sunday, the Packers have turned over the ball 14 times. That’s a pace for 25 — or almost double the total from 2014.

— From 2009 through 2015 — the first seven seasons of Dom Capers’ tenure as defensive coordinator — the Packers had 83 interceptions from their cornerbacks. That was 16 more than any other team. Now? Not so much. The Packers’ corners have intercepted one pass this season.

— Those two factors added up to Green Bay’s overwhelming strength. From 2009 through 2015, the Packers were plus-81 in turnovers. New England was in a league of its own at plus-104 but San Francisco was an equally distant third at plus-59. The Packers were at least twice as good as 28 teams. Now? Not so much. The Packers are minus-4.

— The Packers entered the game yielding 75.8 rushing yards per game. On Sunday? Not so much. DeMarco Murray gained all but the point-eight on a first-play touchdown in which nary a finger touched him on his way to the end zone.

— The Packers entered the game with the third-fewest penalties in the league. On Sunday? Not so much. They were called for 12 penalties.

— Two weeks ago, the Packers were No. 1 in the league in third-down success at 51.6 percent, with their worst of the year being 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) vs. Minnesota. The last two weeks? Not so much, with a combined 8-of-27 (29.6  percent).

— The Packers had 14 sacks in their first four games. Now? Not so much. They have only nine in their last five games.

To be sure, the Packers have a lot of talent on the sideline. Eddie Lacy, David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang, J.C. Tretter, Jared Cook, Damarious Randall, Sam Shields, Jake Ryan and Clay Matthews started the Week 1 game against Jacksonville. That’s merely nine of the 22 starters who have been placed on injured reserve, were inactive or lost to injuries. That’s tough. General manager Ted Thompson, other than a failed trade for running back Knile Davis, has done absolutely nothing to address the injuries. Frankly, he’s left McCarthy high and dry.

Regardless, this is the harsh reality: The Packers, a preseason pick to win the Super Bowl by many league analysts, are hanging on only because the NFC North stinks. They’ve lost three in a row, which matches last year’s longest skid. The last time they lost more than three in a row? In 2008, with Aaron Rodgers in his first year as the starter, Green Bay lost five straight. When will this team win again? It faces Washington and Philadelphia in prime-time road matchups, then hosts division-leading Houston and Seattle.

As we said last week, McCarthy deserves a chance to run a relatively healthy roster on the field. But he, and Thompson, should be on the clock. Together, they’ve built and nurtured the league’s most consistent team outside of New England. And now, based on Sunday's pathetic result, it appears they’re overseeing an unceremonious fall with no end in sight.

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.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.


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