Two weeks ago I pleaded for Green Bay Packers fans to come off the ledge. Well now I have changed course.
This might be a good time to press the panic button.
After blowing an 18-point halftime lead at Indianapolis (the first such halftime lead blown in GB history since 1957) the team now finds its season on the brink with a 2-3 record.
The mighty Packers juggernaut that seemingly just had to throw their helmets on the field to win this time a year ago (while in the midst of a 19-game winning streak) is now finding out first-hand how quickly the National Football League can humble any organization.
Remember back in April when the schedule seemed so easy? Rebuilding Indianapolis; the perennial bottom-feeding Rams; the Vikings in the division coming off a 3-13 season; the Titans; the Jaguars; the Cardinals…
Cupcake City, right?
Well, the Packers have now lost to the Colts. The Rams is no longer a guaranteed win (they recorded nine sacks in their last game…how many will they get off the Packers leaky O-line?) Both the Cardinals and Vikings are 4-1. The Jags and Titans should still both be wins at home, but this year there are very few, if any, soft touches in this league.
And oh yes, a trip to the 5-0 Houston Texans looms this Sunday.
To wit, here is the entire run home…
If wouldn’t be the strangest thing ever to occur in the league if the Pack were to win at Houston Sunday night. But if they don’t, that would leave GB at 2-4 and essentially needing to win eight of its final ten to make the playoffs in the especially rugged NFC.
Let’s say the team wins in St. Louis, and then beats Jacksonville and Arizona. That would put them at 5-4. To be especially optimistic I’ll give them a win at Detroit, but a loss at the Giants.
That would make the record 6-5. I’ll pencil in wins at home v. Tennessee and Detroit, leaving the Pack needing to go 2-1 against the Bears and Vikings to finish 10-6, which should be good at least for a Wild Card and maybe even a division title since they would have a good shot at owning the possible divisional tie-breakers.
But that’s all hypothetical and looking through forest green glasses.
There is an entire laundry list with what is wrong with this team right now.
After a historic season in 2011, Aaron Rodgers statistically has been good so far this year – but not spectacular. He is still completing 68+ percent of his passes, but he is only on pace to throw a mere 32 TDs this year, and his QB rating has dropped from a ridiculous 122.5 to 97.
I’m not saying that Rodgers has suddenly jumped the shark, just that it might be unrealistic to see last year’s video numbers again. Even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both came somewhat back to earth after record-breaking seasons of 49-50 TD’s. Last year may prove to be the career spike with Rodgers.
Meanwhile there was the opposing QB on Sunday. Rodgers may only be 28 and Andrew Luck is not quite yet a finished product, but who would you select first in a dynasty draft right now?
But in actuality, it is what is around Aaron right now that is the far larger problem.
Cedric Benson gone for year – now what?
The need for a solid running back has been a glaring one in Green Bay ever since Ahman Green left (that would be 2006). This may be the year where it really catches up to them.
Even when signed in August, Cedric Benson was looked at as a stopgap, and the move itself smacked of desperation. Now Cedric is gone for the year with the dreaded Lisfranc foot injury, and the team is in real trouble.
Yes, Alex Green is worth a pick-up on the fantasy waiver wire – and maybe the light bulb goes off with him and he runs with the opportunity. As they say, “next man up.” Then again, Brandon Jackson was supposedly worth a waiver wire addition when Ryan Grant went down two years ago, yet B-Jax would only cement himself as yet another recent back in Green Bay that simply did not work out.
James Starks is also in the mix, but we’ve seen most of his act now, and there are no practice squad wonders looming on the horizon.
Whatever magic Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick have in finding running backs out of seemingly nowhere is a skill that Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson have yet to show they have.
Realistically, Greg Jennings figures to be out through the bye period to make sure the hamstring injury does not re-occur. Jordy Nelson excelled as a #2 last year, but he is not a WR1. James Jones has not taken his game to the next level as a starter. Randall Cobb is dangerous, but still just a slot/role player. Donald Driver is literally on his last dance.
And tight end Jermichael Finley is also on the casualty list with a bum shoulder, and his game has regressed the last couple of seasons.
Long-term, Jennings is in his walk year and has already hinted that he might be on a plane out of town once the season ends. Suddenly a position that seemed to be an embarrassment of riches is suddenly looking like a position of need.
21 sacks in five games, with the Texans and Rams looming.
I’m just hoping I’m not talking about Aaron Rodgers going down for the season and Green Bay’s upcoming high draft pick in a couple of weeks.
Jeff Saturday seems like a square peg/round hole and doesn’t seem to be on the same page as the quarterback. T.J. Lang comes close to backing up his game on social media, but the rest of the unit is flawed.
It hasn’t gotten much better compared to last year.
Clay Matthews has eight sacks on the year, so no issues there.
The tide of the Colts game started to change when B.J. Raji went down. That will be a huge loss if it’s long-term.
Then there are the early-round draft choices who have played to mixed reviews. Jerel Worthy was very shaky on Sunday. Nick Perry? Let’s just say when he gets a chance on the field he’s capable of this kind of havoc, although that play also drew a PF.
The secondary is still a train wreck, whether it is Sam Shields getting eaten alive by Reggie Wayne or Tramon Williams dropping two key interceptions.
And Charles Woodson is not getting any younger. You have to think this will be his last year as a difference maker, and he committed two penalties in Indy.
Or simply, not closing the deal.
As Aaron Rodgers said in the post-game, this team couldn’t afford to let off the gas when up 21-3. As was the case in the Seattle game, the Packers let the opposition off the hook. Yes, Indy was playing with a lot of emotion for obvious reasons, but the Colts should have never had the opportunity to get back in the game.
You can also add the Colts last drive and Mason Crosby’s horrible game-tying FG attempt (this just in: not the most accurate kicker in the league) to the team’s growing list of bad beats in recent years. The Jeff Saturday/Rodgers fustercluck in the waning seconds was eerily similar to the Brett Favre meltdown in the NFC Championship Game at a similar juncture.
Then there is getting burnt twice by Hail Mary’s in the space of eight months.
We’ve already talked about the replacement officials ad nausea. But Bill Cowher hit the nail on the head in his CBS analysis of the Seattle debacle: Rule #1 is to box out the receivers; Rule #2 his to knock it away. Bat the ball and there are not two players fighting for the ball, and the official arriving five seconds late doesn’t get the opportunity to decide that the offensive player somehow got some sort of duel possession.
And as I said two weeks ago, the Packers could have also sealed that game with one first down but did not.
The last three occasions Green Bay has started 2-3, they have gone on to finish 6-10, 8-8, and 4-12. Those are not good precedents.
Just a year ago this franchise appeared destined to be contenders not just for the present but also the long-term. It may be time to re-think that analysis.
If you’re a Packers fan, it’s time to hope that last year’s late-season bump in the road, and this year’s early struggles, don’t turn into a full-blown detour.