‘We’re a bit lost’: What’s wrong with Rodgers and the Packers offense?
Aaron Rodgers lay face-down on the FedEx Field sod, having thrown his final pass attempt of the day – this one a forward lateral, technically – out of bounds to finalize the Green Bay Packers’ third consecutive loss.
After Sunday’s game, Rodgers expressed concern about the execution of the Green Bay Packers offense.
“It’s not winning football,” he said.
Looking ahead, though, he couldn’t have been more confident.
“I’m not worried about this squad,” Rodgers said. “In fact, this might be the best thing for us.”
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Rodgers would manifest the offensive issues away if he could, but it won’t be that simple. The Packers rank 20th in yards per game (331.6) and 23rd in scoring (18.3), and for all of the talk the ayahuasca-ingesting signal-caller has done in recent months about positive energy, the message has not spread to everyone in the locker room.
“If you watch the game, you see we have those times where we play good, energy is there, great vibes,” veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins told USA TODAY Sports. “Then you have that first half where you’re looking around like, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’”
Those are questions the 3-4 Packers will have to answer before a ‘Sunday Night Football’ tilt against the Buffalo Bills, or else risk further damage to any postseason prospects. And that responsibility rests with the coaching staff, Watkins said.
“We’re a bit confused,” Watkins said. “We’re a bit lost.”
Running back Aaron Jones cited the inconsistency as a source of frustration.
“We show it here, we show it there,” said Jones, who led the Packers in targets (10) and catches (nine for 53 yards, two touchdowns) on Sunday. “We just don’t put it all together. Maybe one mental error on a play, and then the next play another person has a mental error. We’re going to continue to work and get it done.”
Watkins said he and Rodgers have been around long enough to realize when something other than the X’s and O’s is off.
“Sometimes I just feel like, ‘What the?’” Watkins said. “Felt that vibe pretty much (the) whole first half. Once things got tight, I felt like ‘OK.’ We need to feel like that 99% of the time. If we can feel like the last five minutes of that game, then we’ll blow a lot of teams out. Until that happens, we’re going to continue to look as bad as we’ve been looking.”
Moments removed from defeat, Watkins acknowledged that the whole team felt “bad.”
“It’s all on energy,” Watkins said. “The team that got the energy, no matter what type of players you got. If you got that energy, that confidence, you’re going to win. That’s basically what Washington did. They’re not good. But they beat a good team. They had the energy.”
The Washington defense did not blitz Rodgers on Sunday and was comfortable dropping back into coverage. As a result, the four-time MVP attempted five throws that traveled 10 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage, with most of those coming with the Packers trailing in the fourth quarter. Ten of his 35 attempts were at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Rodgers averaged 3.2 air yards on his completed passes (23) Sunday, and he entered that game with the second-lowest average (4.3) in the NFL on those throws, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Packers had only 47 plays on offense, and they failed to convert on third down (0-for-6) for the first time in Rodgers’ career – and the first time in a game since 1999. Rodgers has thrown for 1,597 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
Asked after Sunday’s game if throwing downfield more would open up the offense, coach Matt LaFleur replied:
“Yeah, potentially. I think if we knew what the answer was we wouldn’t be standing here right now. Whatever it is, right now, what we’re putting out there, what I’m calling, it ain’t good enough. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The lack of explosiveness is obvious; the fastest ball carrier for the Packers on Sunday was linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (20.09 mph), returning an interception for a touchdown.
“We got to look at everything and see what we’re doing and the situations we’re putting our guys in,” LaFleur said.
The Packers were without starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, who battling issues in his surgically-repaired knee. The offensive line as a whole has not enjoyed continuity.
Watkins is on a snap count, and receiver Randall Cobb is also injured. Most of all, Rodgers misses his former No. 1 target, Davante Adams, who signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in the offseason.
ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a 12-year NFL quarterback, said he sees an offense too infatuated with the run-pass option and compared it to the struggles Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs endured – and overcame – in 2021. They are in shotgun too much, Orlovsky said, and that compromises their ability to marry the run game to the play-action passing attack that is vital to a LaFleur offense.
“When you live in the RPO world and teams can play man-coverage because your receivers aren’t as good as they were, well that’s going to minimize the RPO impact and they’re going to dare you to throw the football,” Orlovsky said.
He added: “There’s not a play where you sit there and say, ‘They are really close.’”
Green Bay receivers dropped several passes Sunday. Rookie Romeo Doubs had at least two and didn’t catch a pass. Second-year wideout Amari Rodgers couldn’t haul in a deep ball down the right side and muffed a punt. Rookie Christian Watson was a non-factor.
Rodgers said afterward that aside from Watkins and Allen Lazard, who exited Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, there were too many mental mistakes among the receiving corps.
“There were probably seven or eight other passes that could have been caught, for sure,” Rodgers said. “Right now we’ve got to have all of them because we’re just not good enough.”
Rodgers doubled down on those comments during his weekly “Pat McAfee Show” appearance Tuesday, saying it may be the time to “really crack the whip a little bit.”
“Guys who are making too many mistakes shouldn’t be playing,” he said. “Got to start cutting reps.’
Rodgers knows one way to inject urgency would be to break the pocket and extend plays. Bakhtiari’s return and sustained health would protect the quarterback’s blind side and stabilize a unit that has been banged up. Perhaps a move at the trade deadline can unlock something within the offense.
Until then, the Packers will be left looking for answers.
“For some odd reason, it’s not working out,” Watkins said. “I’m confused. I’m pretty sure everybody in this locker room is confused. But we signed up for it. The only thing we can do is keep going out there, practicing hard, try to will a win. Can’t complain. Can’t point fingers on what’s going on, what’s the issue.
“The only thing we can do is play our hearts out for each other each week. Something’s got to change now. We got to get this thing rolling. I don’t know what we can do as players to do that.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.