There are a number of issues surrounding this Green Bay Packers team right now, the most noteworthy being that they just cannot get out of their own way. Once again, too many self-inflicted errors resulted in a slow start and another loss on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
“Just way too many mistakes,” said Matt LaFleur after the 24-10 defeat. “Penalties. Drops. Not being able to convert on third down and conversely not getting off the grass on third down. Struggles in the red zone. Starting the game out, I want to say, four three and outs. It’s hard to get into a rhythm offensively, and when we needed a stop, we weren’t able to do that.”
Green Bay finished the game with 11 penalties, totaling 99 yards, a number of which were on the offensive side of the ball. This either negated a positive play for offense, or right off the bat, put them behind the sticks in obvious passing, and long down-and-distance situations where this unit has struggled mightily this season.
The defense ends up with the advantage in these situations. The pass rush can pin its ears back to get after the quarterback. The defense as a whole can get into favorable matchups and there are only so many routes that can be ran in those scenarios—hence the predictability. Also, it’s not as if this Green Bay passing attack has the consistency to be leaned as heavily as is needed on those down and distances either. The end results was an offense that converted just 5 of their 14 third down attempts and were just 1-for-4 on fourth downs.
“The lack of disciplined play, that’s paramount,” said LaFleur. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing if we’re getting called for things. We’ve got to clean it up. We get holding penalties or whatever it is. False start penalties backs us up. We already know get back on track situations have been very tough for us.”
Love finished the day completing 24-of-41 passes at just 5.6 yard per attempt with one touchdown and one interception. The offense struggled to connect on downfield pass attempts as they have for much of the season, and dropped balls were once again an issue as well. After the game, LaFleur mentioned that he counted six dropped passes without having had the chance to look back at the game film.
Two of the dropped passes, one by Aaron Jones and another by Luke Musgrave, occurred on the first two possessions of the game for Green Bay, negating first downs and potentially affording the offense the opportunity to find some sort of rhythm. Another was a drop by Dontayvion Wicks in the red zone at the end of the game.
“I say this every week,” added LaFleur, “there’s going to be a couple plays you want back but also, we’ve got to make some plays for him as well. I think we had like six dropped balls. That’s going to be tough to overcome.
“We’ve got to catch it. We’ve got to throw it better. We’ve got to catch it better. We’ve got to block better. We’ve got to stop having penalties that knock us back and put us in these obvious passing situations. We’ve got to find a way to convert a third down early in the game so you can run your offense.”
Along with the flat out drops, contested catches have given these Packers pass catchers troubles as well. On a deep ball, the Minnesota defender made a really nice play, ripping the ball away from Jayden Reed for an interception. Later in the red zone, a contested – albeit difficult – catch to Christian Watson in the end zone was knocked away.
Despite the slow start, Green Bay managed to make their way into the red zone four times against Minnesota, however, they left with a touchdown on just one occasion. Whether it was because a they were short on time or because they averaged fewer than four yards per carry, the Packers weren’t able to lean on that element. This then put the offense in that viscous cycle of being in long down-and-distance situations that they can’t dig themselves out of.
“I know that we had a critical drop,” said LaFleur of the Packers’ red zone performance, “going in with an opportunity to cut it to a one possession game. We get down there on the one-yard line and try to run it in, but that wasn’t working, obviously. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board. I’ve got to take a look at the tape and try to find some better answers for our guys because whatever we are doing is not working.”
Love said after the game that he believes the team is close. If one thing here or there goes differently for them, such as fewer penalties or converting a red zone opportunity, or less drops, these last few games for the Packers could have ended differently.
However, the truly concerning aspect of it all is that the same issues discussed after the Minnesota game are the same ones that have plagued the Packers for a month-plus now. Green Bay entered the game with the sixth-most penalties, ninth in dropped passes, ranked in the bottom-half of the league in third-downs, and during their losing streak they’ve converted just 42 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. All of which tells us that a solution and improved play might not be right around the corner..