Since taking the reigns from Brett Favre in 2008, Aaron Rodgers has helped the Green Bay Packers become perennial Super Bowl contenders. They’re more than just contenders because they won the 2011 Super Bowl and have made the playoffs in seven straight seasons.
But in 2016, over halfway through the year, Green Bay finds themselves at 4-5 and on the outskirts of playoff projections. And following a 47-25 thumping at the hands of the mediocre Tennessee Titans, the Packers have more questions than answers right now.
While the offense has been inconsistent due to the lack of a reliable running game, the run defense was the one constant that Green Bay has relied on this season. Sadly, even that failed the Packers as they gave up a 75-yard touchdown to DeMarco Murray on Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage.
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2016
It wasn’t like Murray made some amazing move or ran over multiple defenders on his way to the end zone. It was a simple inside-the-tackle run that Green Bay failed to properly cover. And this play exemplified what’s been the problem for the Packers all season: they can’t put together complete games on both sides of the ball.
The players haven’t given up, though, and there are still seven games left to be played.
“I mean, we are what our record is — and it’s not good,” said tackle Bryan Bulaga. “We’re 4-5, and it’s unacceptable for us. There’s still a lot of football left to be played. It’s up to us to find a way to dig ourselves out of this.”
But will Green Bay dig themselves out of the hole this year and make the postseason for the eight-straight year?
The 47 points that the Packers gave up to Tennessee—including four touchdown passes by second-year QB Marcus Mariota—are the most the team’s surrendered in a regular season game since Nov. 24, 2008, when they lost 51-29 to the New Orleans Saints.
This is also the fourth time in five games that Green Bay has given up at least 30 points. We need only refer to last week, when they gave up 31 points in a loss to another AFC South opponent, the Indianapolis Colts.
At 4-5 and a game behind both the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions in the NFC North, Green Bay still has a chance to win their division.
But given recent performances by the defense, and Rodgers’ inability to stabilize it all with his brilliant fourth-quarter comebacks, it’s worth wondering if the Packers can cover this gap. Furthermore, one also has to wonder if the 32-year-old quarterback might be slipping from the elite ranks.
“I’m gonna disagree with all of that,” said Bulaga. “That’s just noise from the outside coming in here. I don’t think there’s anybody better than Aaron, to be honest with you. And the coaches put us in great position to make plays every single week.”
Bulaga could very well be right that his QB is still among the league’s top signal callers. Rodgers’ numbers tell the tale, as he’s passed for 2,410 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just 7 interceptions through nine games. But given Green Bay’s record, fingers will be pointed until this team starts winning again.
If the wins don’t start coming, there have been suggestions that McCarthy could be fired after an 11-year tenure with the team.
But for his part, McCarthy isn’t worried about job security, but rather dealing with all of his team’s injuries. Left tackle David Bakhtiari and right guard T.J. Lang both went down against Tennessee. There have been plenty of injuries at other positions too, which, as NFL.com’s Michael Silver points out, has caused McCarthy to use 21 different personnel groupings this season.
McCarthy isn’t the only one dealing with heat because general manager Ted Thompson is also under pressure after 12 years with the organization.
Thompson has failed to stock Green Bay with enough running backs with Eddie Lacy on injured reserve, causing McCarthy to get creative and use receivers Devante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Ty Montgomery at the position. Thankfully, James Starks returned after missing four games with a sprained knee, scoring a 13-yard touchdown on a first-half catch.
But McCarthy will have to continue using receivers to back Starks up in the meantime. Thompson gave up a seventh-round pick for Kansas City Chiefs running back Knile Davis, who had just 5 yards on 5 carries before being released after two weeks. Davis has since gone back to the Chiefs, while Green Bay essentially gave up a draft pick for a 5-yard rental.
Thompson should be credited with the good draft picks that he’s made over his Green Bay career. But again, with the Packers currently having a losing record, any missight by management will draw attention.
And with Green Bay dealing with injuries and a lack of depth at certain positions, the onus is on Rodgers to dig them out of the hole.
“He’s human. Is he trying to do more in certain spots?,” asked McCarthy. “Perhaps, but that’s natural. But the bottom line is this: There’s so many things he does well, he spoils us.”
Rather than putting the pressure on Rodgers, this team needs to lock down on defense, and do what they can in the secondary. Furthermore, the receivers need to get more separation to make Rodgers’ job easier.
Will all of this come together so that the Packers can make a run?
They have a mediocre schedule ahead in terms of overall difficulty, setting the stage for a potential run. Seattle is the toughest game, while @Chicago is the easiest. Houston, @Washington, @Philadelphia, Minnesota, and @Detroit will present challenges.
But these are winnable games for an ‘on’ Packers team. The only question will be if they can fix their problems and play up to the level they’ve maintained for the past seven seasons.