Sunday School: What we learned vs. Jaguars

Our W. Keith Roerdink provides his weekly five observations after the Packers' latest defeat. Some of the problems seen on Sunday stem from decisions made during the offseason (like getting rid of that guy in the picture), Roerdink says.

1.) Ghosts of offseasons past are haunting the Packers
They say championships are won in the offseason. That's where they're lost, too, however, and the Packers are finding that out. Every season stands on its own, but that the Packers have fallen so far after going 13-3 and being within an overtime field goal of the Super Bowl last year cannot be dismissed.

Injuries to safety Atari Bigby and the loss of defensive end Cullen Jenkins have been huge factors, but a large part of this is the team's own doing.

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy thought the time was right to start the Aaron Rodgers era, even though Brett Favre was an MVP runner-up last year and had a command of the offense that could not be expected from a first-year starter. There is also an intangible with the great ones that elevates everyone's play. A moxie, a mojo, whatever you call it. Favre had it. Rodgers doesn't, at least not yet. There was plenty of blame to go around in the retirement-unretirement saga, but this offense would've been better with Favre. The passing game would be improved, as would the run game. Ryan Grant didn't magically get worse. He faced defenses last year that were playing to stop Favre first and the running game second.

But it's not just about Favre. The reach on defensive tackle Justin Harrell two years ago in the draft ultimately led to the offseason trade of Corey Williams, who was coming off of two strong seasons. Harrell has been injury prone, as he was in college, and rates as one of the team's bigger draft busts. With Williams out, the pass rush suffers and the defensive line rotation is weaker. It's not about what Williams, or Favre for that matter, are doing with their new teams. It's about what they would've been doing with their old team.

Two special-teams personnel moves also proved costly when Green Bay parted ways with punter Jon Ryan and linebacker Tracy White, one of their top performers on the coverage units. Both areas suffered as a result.

2.) If the defense were a ship, it would be the Titanic
It was just another day at the office for the Packers' defense. Players were out of position, tackling was shoddy, no pass rush, missed assignments, uninspired play-calling and yet another late-game, big-play reception that set up the winning points. The only notable difference was the on-field berating of linebacker Brady Poppinga by cornerback Al Harris after no-name Jags tight end Greg Estandia ran uncovered down the field for a 35-yard completion late in the game.

This was a Jaguars offense missing three starters on the offensive line, that had cracked 300 yards only twice in the previous five games and whose quarterback had thrown only three touchdowns in his previous four starts. The only thing the Packers should've had to worry about was bowling-ball back Maurice Jones-Drew. But miscues had players like Estandia and Dennis Northcutt sticking it to them, not to mention David Garrard running for a ridiculous 31 yards on quarterback draws everyone except the Packers seemed to be expecting.

Fourteen games into the season, this unit looks confused and unsure. Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders is unable to get players in the right position or manufacture pass rush the way other coordinators are able to. Everyone needs to bear some of the responsibility, but it begins with Sanders. Rest assured, changes are coming, from the coordinator, to some of the players, to the scheme itself.

3.) Rodgers can't get his team the come-from-behind victory
It was understandable against Tennessee. Perhaps expected at the Metrodome. And then the blowout against Chicago put the talk on hold another week. But then came Carolina and Houston and now Jacksonville, and it's officially out there: Aaron Rodgers isn't a finisher. It's not even a question. It's a fact. When the ball is in his hands at the end of the game, he hasn't got it done. And his biggest completions in crunch time have come to the guys in the other jerseys. It's not fair to put it all on his shoulders. He has gone down and put the go-ahead or tying points on the board in the fourth quarter, only to watch his kick coverage unit play like 11 people pulled out of the stands at random and his defense give up the big play as if the players had money on the other team to win. But with time on the clock and the game on the line, Rodgers has been unable to do that which defines the greatest of quarterbacks and something his predecessor did 40 times — bring his team from behind for a win.

Give him credit, he takes responsibility. He owns up. He says it himself before anyone else has to. That's all admirable and shows what a standup guy Rodgers truly is. Statistically, he's done more than any first-year Packers signal-caller and in the top 10 in the league in yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. All very impressive. Most of his numbers are better than Favre's are with the Jets. But the number Rodgers can't escape is 5-9. And with five chances to improve that mark, he's come up short. Rodgers is a good quarterback and he'll only get better. But right now, he's not getting it done when it matters most.

4.) Potential and production are far apart for Finley
Well, at least he kept his mouth shut this time. Earlier in the season, tight end Jermichael Finley, a 21-year-old third-round pick out of Texas, had a chance for two game-changing plays at Tennessee. He made neither, and used the judgment of a 21-year-old in calling out his quarterback and noting the coaches aren't putting him in a position to make enough plays.

Fast forward to Jacksonville, and Finley, whose intriguing blend of 6-foot-5 size, athleticism and basketball background could make him a special player in a year or two, again is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. On a failed third-and-goal play in the second quarter, Finley lined up on the right before being waved to the other side by teammates. Then there was the failed fade pass in the end zone in the first quarter, the exact type of play Finley was drafted to make. Frustrating as those were to watch, it's Finley's improved play in practice that's getting his number called in those spots. But with his rookie year nearly over, the time to start growing up is now.

5.) Short yardage isn't short enough for this group
Early in the season, the Packers' offense had little problem picking up a yard. They were a far cry from the team whose short-yardage game was on the bottom of the league the year before. A younger, athletic quarterback was sneaking for first downs — something that hadn't been seen in years. Even after Rodgers separated his shoulder, McCarthy asked his quarterback to duck his head and go for it. The results bore it out. And when it wasn't Rodgers getting the call, it was fullback John Kuhn bulling his way into the pile for a fresh set of downs.

But on Sunday, the Packers made a struggling Jacksonville squad look like the "Steel Curtain." On the last two plays of the third quarter and the first play of the fourth, Green Bay was manhandled in embarrassing fashion. On a second-and-1 toss to running back Ryan Grant from the Jacksonville 44-yard line, the offensive line was caved in and Grant had no gain. Grant got bottled up again for 0 yards on a stretch play out of a double tight end, I-formation. On fourth down, McCarthy went to Kuhn, who had been 4-for-4 on these plays this season up until he got stopped up on a fourth-and-goal against Carolina. Unfortunately, the result was the same, as Kuhn slammed straight ahead and got stonewalled. The Jaguars seemed to be expecting Kuhn and defended it perfectly, creating a pileup that let linebacker Clint Ingram, the player who made the stop on second down, make the play again.

W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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