GREEN BAY, Wis. — Just about everything that’s wrong with the Green Bay Packers‘ offense this season can be found in the second half of their past two games, the losses at Seattle and Minnesota.
Three points in the second half against the Seahawks.
Three points in the second half against the Vikings.
No team in the NFL that didn’t have their bye in one of the past two weeks has scored as few second-half points as the Packers in that stretch. Only the Arizona Cardinals — who come to Lambeau Field this Sunday ranked last in the NFL in total offense, passing yards, rushing yards, points and third-down percentage — have been anywhere near as bad in the second half the past two weeks. But at least they’ve scored a touchdown.
“We’ve just been a one-half team this year,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We haven’t put it together for four quarters. We’ve had a couple stretches where we had back-to-back good quarters in the first or second half and haven’t done it in the other two. So it’s execution; it’s the little details. It’s a block in the back on a kind of side/back on the first drive of the third quarter in Seattle that puts us in the red zone, that puts points [on the board], that keeps the momentum going — it doesn’t let us do that. It’s not converting third down the first drive in the third quarter against Minnesota. We get in these doldrums where we’re not functioning at a high level and put ourselves in a tough position.”
While much of the focus has been on Rodgers’ inconsistent play, the breakdowns have come across the board for myriad reasons. To be sure, it starts and ends with the quarterback, but in between there have been breakdowns in protections, miscommunications with rookie receivers and the disappearance of tight end Jimmy Graham.
It all has added up to some horrific second-half numbers the past two weeks: 23.1 percent conversion rate on third down (26th in the NFL), eight first downs (worse than all but one team that played both weeks), 49 total offensive plays (third fewest among teams that played both weeks), seven sacks (tied for the most) a 24.1 percent sack-per-attempt rate (second highest) and an average of just 24.5 rushing yards (lowest in the league).
Rodgers’ completion percentage in the second half the past two weeks (62.1 percent) actually came in higher than his season completion rate of 61.7 percent, but it still ranked just 20th among all quarterbacks in the second half of games the past two weeks.
“We’ve had some breakdowns up front and then we haven’t had guys open,” Rodgers said. “So we’ve got to shore things up and block it up and make sure we’re getting guys open.”
Rodgers said after Sunday’s loss at Minnesota that there were two throws he flat out missed — the second-and-1 pass from the Vikings’ 20-yard line that bounced at the feet of rookie Equanimeous St. Brown and the potential touchdown to Davante Adams on the next play that he overthrew.
A week earlier, there was an almost carbon copy of the St. Brown throw at the feet of another rookie, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, on third-and-2 with 4:20 left against the Seahawks.
“They’re big plays,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “You’re going to have to give him time. When you throw the ball down the field, there’s obviously more variance for error. We had some opportunities that we hit sometimes and sometimes you don’t. The most important thing for us is to keep going after it. And that’s what we’re doing.”
It might be only a few throws that Rodgers has missed, but given how routine he has almost always made those look, it has led to questions about his performance and what might be impacting it. No one, not Rodgers and not McCarthy, blamed it on his Week 1 knee injury that limited his practice time the first half of the season and perhaps hurt the timing of the offense.
“I think anytime your quarterback [doesn’t practice] back in the early weeks when we were going through it, it’s not as much as the veteran quarterback that he particularly needs to practice, it’s everybody else,” McCarthy said. “It’s the time clock. When your trigger guy in the time clock of the play — all the other mechanics that are tied to that, they need those reps.”
At 4-6-1 and with their playoff chances dwindling, the Packers’ second-half woes might be tough to solve. The starting left side of their offensive line — tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and guard Lane Taylor (quad) — is banged up and didn’t practice on Wednesday. Graham has been limited because of the broken left thumb he suffered at Seattle. The only boost could come from wide receiver Randall Cobb, who has missed six of the past eight games because of a hamstring injury but practiced on Wednesday.
Otherwise, it’s been mostly Adams, who went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark against the Vikings for the first time in his career, and running back Aaron Jones.
Stephen A. Smith blames the Packers’ lost season on head coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers.
“We’ve just got to stay aggressive,” Adams said. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas pedal. It’s not directed at any room in here — it’s not on the wideouts, it’s not on the players or the coaches — but it’s a collective effort and everybody knows that. I think we do a better job around here now holding everybody accountable. Guys know that they’ve got to do better as far as making plays and continuing to push when we are up and when we have those leads and making them grow.
“That’s what we did in ’14, and that’s why we were so successful. I talk about it with the wideouts — something that Cobb introduced me to when I got here is that we like to think the whole team goes through this room. That’s why I try to put as much as I can on my back, and the guys have bought into that as well.”