Offense Must Pick Up Slack

With the defense without two key starters, the offense must become more effective in the red zone. After scoring two touchdowns in five trips inside the Niners' 20-yard line on Sunday, Green Bay is 18-of-34 on the season.

The Green Bay Packers outgained the San Francisco 49ers by a whopping 200 yards on Sunday, 484-284.

The Packers won the turnover battle 1-0.

They played keepaway and earned a more than 2-to-1 edge in time of possession.

All of that for a six-point victory?

In that regard, Sunday's 30-24 victory at Lambeau Field was a microcosm of the Packers' season.

Only two teams in the NFL rank in the top five in the major statistical categories: total offense, scoring offense, total defense, scoring defense and turnover margin: New England and Green Bay.

The Packers rank seventh in offense, eighth in scoring, third in defense, 12th in scoring defense and first in turnovers at a whopping plus-14. And yet they're 6-4, with no margin for error in the NFC playoff race as they enter the stretch run without linebacker Aaron Kampman and cornerback Al Harris.

Every week, the Packers completely fall apart in one or two segments of the game. Early in the season, it was run defense. Many weeks, it's pass blocking. Some weeks, it's kick coverage.

On Sunday, it was red-zone efficiency. Or inefficiency.

The Packers' offense got inside the 49ers' 20-yard line five times on Sunday, and managed to punch it into the end zone just twice. Rather than need a clutch six-minute drive to clinch the victory, the game could have been over at halftime had they scored a touchdown on either of their first two drives.

The first died when Jermichael Finley was unable to corral a low throw on third-and-4 from the 5-yard line. Two breakdowns killed the second red-zone possession. On first down, left guard Daryn Colledge ran out too fast and allowed immediate pressure to foil a screen. On third-and-5 from the 9-yard line, Brandon Jackson turned upfield to block for a scrambling Aaron Rodgers right about the time Rodgers threw the ball to Jackson. The Packers ran out of time on their third red-zone trip and settled for a third-down field goal.

"I thought we played an extremely productive first half as a football team, you know, in all three phases," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought the defense really set the tone. They had the one long run and the ability to give off the field on third down and to continue to give us the ball back on offense. On offense, we had a lot of production. We didn't play as well as we liked in the red zone on those first two series."

"Their defense is very talented," said Rodgers, who has nine touchdown passes and no interceptions and a passer rating of 102.2 in the red zone this season. "We were able to get some things going in the first half, get some momentum, put together some good tries. Unfortunately, we kicked three field goals in the red zone."

The Packers' offense entered the game ranked 14th in red-zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 55.2 percent of the time, but are now 18-of-34 (52.9 percent). Spelling double trouble, the defense entered the game ranked 29th at 65.4 percent. The 49ers scored a touchdown on their only red-zone possession on Sunday, meaning opposing offenses are 18-of-27 (66.7 percent).

On the bright side, the Packers made it 20-3 when Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for a 7-yard touchdown on first and goal. And in the fourth quarter, Rodgers hit Finley for 9 yards to convert a third-and-9, setting up Ryan Grant's 1-yard plunge. Thus, with those two first-and-goal conversions, the Packers figure to rise from their 21st ranking entering the week, when they had scored touchdowns on only 61.1 percent of their goal-to-go possessions.

With the Packers in a three-way tie for the two NFC wild-card spots with six games remaining, red-zone efficiency is an area the Packers need to improve. With two enormous new holes on defense, the Packers need their offense to pick up the slack.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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