When any team enters its bye week, there are always questions to be asked. Sometimes those questions have answers, sometimes they don’t.
For the Green Bay Packers, the bye week almost arrived without much cause for concern at all. Heading into Sunday night’s 44-23 defeat at the hands of the struggling New Orleans Saints, Green Bay had won four games straight, three of which were by margins of 20+ points.
But now, at a less-than-polished mark of 5-3, and a full game back of the never-say-die Detroit Lions in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers are back in the hot seat. Beware, some problems seem to be here for the long run. Others are simply one or two game phenomena that fans shouldn’t expect to see continue.
The “Jekyll and Hyde” running game
We’ve seen the good and the bad of Green Bay’s running game this season (perhaps the ugly as well if you count week four versus Chicago), but the team seems to be headed in the right direction.
After rushing for 80 yards or fewer for four consecutive weeks to start the season, the Packers have since rushed for an average of 122 yards per game. Seems impressive, right?
Well, if you look at Green Bay’s opponents, those numbers won’t impress you nearly as much. Green Bay has only ran for over 100 yards in three games this season. Two of those games were against the Minnesota Vikings and the Carolina Panthers, who sit 22nd and 31st respectively in the league for run defense. And regardless of recent success in the running game, the Packers still sit at 24th in the league for run offense with 98 yards per game.
Workhorse Eddie Lacy is always a concern for injury, particularly because of his physical style of down hill running. Without a proper change-up to Lacy’s bruising approach (and I don’t believe Starks sufficiently fills that role, with just 193 rushing yards and one touchdown this season), the Packers will never prove to have a potent running game.
Green Bay Packers’ inconsistent running game: FLAW.
A lethargic defense
Green Bay’s defense was destined for a closer look under the microscope after yielding 44 points to New Orleans on Sunday night. Aside from a late fumble recovery, the Packers’ defense looked dreadful. Mark Ingram gashed them for 172 yards on the ground as part of the Saints’ 495 total offensive yards.
Green Bay’s high-octane offense usually does a good enough job taking pressure off its defense, but when that doesn’t happen, there’s very little that the defense has done to prove its worth.
Of course, there’s an argument to be made that things will get better for the Packers. CB Sam Shields, S Morgan Burnett, and DE Datone Jones, three players listed as starters on Green Bay’s depth chart, are all currently sidelined with injuries. Also, despite being 29th in the NFL in yards allowed, the Green Bay Packers have only surrendered more than 24 points twice this season.
Regardless, they’ve struggled too much to be considered merely a fluke. The carousel that is the team’s middle linebacker position has yet to be solved and may never work itself out. Is there enough depth in the middle to warrant using Green Bay’s trademark 3-4 defensive scheme? Perhaps not.
Green Bay Packers’ lackluster defense: FLAW.
Recent red zone woes
Although Sunday night’s final score didn’t reflect a close game, Green Bay was a few critical conversions away from taking New Orleans down to the wire. What could very well have been the difference? A one-for-four effort for red zone touchdowns. “Effort” may be too generous of a word.
In Green Bay’s four trips inside the red zone, the team mustered just 13 points off of two field goals and a touchdown. It’s important to note that the other possession was an interception and the touchdown came on a Rodgers scramble when the game was already out of reach.
Numbers like that are discouraging for Packers fans, but they don’t reflect seasonal trends. Green Bay is 8th in the league in red zone touchdown efficiency, finding the end zone in 21 of its 30 appearances (64.52%).
Finishing the job in the final twenty yards of the field will always be relevant to a team’s success, but don’t forget that the Packers can hurt teams with big plays as well. Rodgers is a quarterback that has no problem showing off his cannon, particularly to WR Jordy Nelson, who has long touchdown catches of 59, 66, and 80 yards already this year.
The Packers have enough offensive firepower, particularly in the passing game, to be a potent red zone team. And even if the running game can’t fully do its part, Lacy is more than physical enough to handle the goal-line running plays.
Green Bay Packers’ struggling red zone offense: FLUKE.