Packers fall to undefeated Panthers; look to Lambeau for revival

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Green Bay’s back-to-back losses create sense of urgency to recapture top position in NFC

In consecutive wins over Green Bay, the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers revealed the Packers’ two greatest weaknesses:

  • Their offensive line and defensive front seven are not functioning effectively of late.
  • The Packers’ 37-29 loss Sunday at unbeaten Carolina (8-0) extended to eight quarters the team’s frustration and futility.

The Packers (6-2) clearly have failed to play up to expectations, losing by 19 points and 8 points in successive weekends.
With miscues and injuries abundant, Green Bay trailed 27-7 at halftime, and 37-14 through three quarters, before mounting a monumental comeback that put them in position to tie the game four yards from pay dirt. Then the bad luck gremlin surfaces as Corey Linsley stumbles out of his stance on fourth down allowing immediate and intense pressure on Aaron Rodgers and a huge missed opportunity as a wide open Randall Cobb could only watch in frustration in the Panthers’ end zone.
The frustration spilled over on the Packers’ bench when Ha HaClinton-Dix and Julius Peppers traded a heated exchange on camera, and B.J. Raji demonstratively stepped in between.
It also showed when Aaron Rodgers, while seated on the bench and after watching the replay of his game-ending interception, slammed the tablet to the turf. The wide-open Randall Cobb would’ve been an easy target but all Rodgers had time to do was lob a desperation pass into the hands of Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis to seal the game.
Fate steps in to take away the huge opportunity that a rookie’s brilliant interception had given the Packers.
So where do the Packers go from here?
Frankly, I can’t think of any better soup for the Packers’ soul than a Sunday afternoon with the Detroit Lions at sold-out Lambeau Field. That should help.
So should the Packers’ realization that Aaron Rodgers can’t do it alone, and the defense needs to hold up its end of the bargain.
There are no easy solutions, just a lot of suggestions. One such suggestion is that McCarthy consider participating in the play-calling duties in order to cure what ails the offense.
But that would be a mistake for two reasons:

#1: the play-calling hasn’t been the offense’s problem.

It’s been injuries and tempo, or lack thereof (until it was too late Sunday), in addition to breakdowns up and down the offensive line. It isn’t the same player all the time. It’s a different player at a bad time.
Aaron Rodgers has next to no chance to succeed until the line plays more cohesively and consistently. They did well for five games to start the season.
Play-calling isn’t why linemen are missing key blocks. The Packers’ offensive line has under-achieved in recent weeks, albeit against excellent defenses.
When Jordy Nelson was lost to a season-ending knee injury, I wrote that the Packers had enough weapons for Rodgers to thrive without his #1 target, BUT only if the line held up. The hasn’t happened in the two losses.
Certainly, James Starks and especially Eddie Lacy have had too few holes to hit. More often than not they’ve been hit quickly after receiving the handoff or toss.McCarthy doesn’t need to call the plays. The offense – and especially the offensive line – needs to execute the ones called.

#2: Rodgers and the offense need to play with tempo and purpose

This can be provided by “big picture” coach McCarthy and then executed by his play caller, Tom Clements. Aside from the furious late rally at Carolina, there hasn’t been much life on the offensive side of the football of late.
It’s been an eight-quarter slump, almost as if the Packers’ offense suddenly realized maybe it can’t get this done very well without Nelson.
Guess what? The Lions don’t care. Neither do the Minnesota Vikings (6-2) who share the NFC North Division lead with Green Bay, and who still have two games to play against them. McCarthy seemed unconcerned by the sideline blowup.
“It doesn’t concern me,” he told reporters. “It’s football. Things happen on the sidelines. It’s a product of us not playing to our standard. Sometimes things like that happen. I have no concerns.”
In fact, it was the first sign of life the team has shown in a while.
“You want emotional guys on the team,” Peppers said. “That’s what we have. Sometimes, emotions flare. It happens. We were down 20 points, obviously. If you’re not frustrated and you’re not upset, then something’s wrong.”
Raji said the issue will be dealt with.
“Sometimes it’s an emotional game, sometimes things are said, things are done,” Raji said. “We’ll discuss it and move forward. It’s an in-house thing. It’s a family issue and we’ll take care of it.”
Expect the Packers to rebound at home and against the Lions in a big way. But don’t forget that the Packers and McCarthy have a lot of work to do between now and the final month. Winning out in November is one priority.
The other is tightening it up on both the offensive line and defensive front seven.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.