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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay’s defense, special teams show the way in victory at Oakland
The Green Bay Packers’ 30-20 victory at Oakland Sunday was illustrative in two ways:
- The Packers’ defense and special teams have improved to the point where they can carry the team to a road victory.
- The Packers’ offense in particular – and the team in general – has a long way to go and a short time to get there between now and the playoffs. If it doesn’t find a way to raise its level of play, especially on offense, Green Bay will be a strong “one-and-done” candidate.
The victory gives the Packers (10-4) a seventh straight post-season appearance. It was led by a defense that scored one touchdown and set up another, and a special teams unit that provided the big kick return at a critical moment.
Beyond that, the Packers showed little to suggest their offensive woes have been fixed. With Packers head coach Mike McCarthy calling the plays for a second straight week, Aaron Rodgers and the offense returned to its sporadic ways. The running attack was non-existent, Rodgers’ passer rating was a miserable 68.8, and Green Bay finished 1-of-5 in the red zone and 4-for-13 on third down.
One week after pummeling Dallas’ defense for 230 rushing yards on 44 carries, the Packers’ Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined on 20 carries for 74 yards and Starks’ third fumble in as many games. The Packers also committed two turnovers. Nevertheless, the Raiders weren’t able to capitalize and Green Bay did just enough to get the victory and move on.
The question is this: In what direction? McCarthy was irked by the line of questioning after the game.
“We’re right where I want to be,” he said. “We’re right where we need to be. The style points, you can flush that. I’m sick and tired of talking about the negatives. We’ve won 10 games. We lost three games on the last play of the game and Denver beat us. That’s the overview of our season, and we’ve got a chance to win 11 next week.”
While I understand McCarthy’s irritation, I also realize that the Packers aren’t playing nearly well enough to make a deep run in the playoffs. In fact, they look more like a team that could fail to advance if they don’t get their offense together.
Clearly, the Packers need to find a top-flight perimeter receiver in the 2016 NFL draft. Merely sitting and hoping Jordy Nelson will come back 100 percent in 2016 isn’t enough. If the Packers had Nelson, it’s likely their offense would recapture its explosiveness. Without him, it’s been a disaster. With Nelson and another true No.1 opposite him, the Packers’ offense might be unstoppable.
As it stands, it risks the criticism once heaped upon Pro Football Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf. Fans often griped that Wolf didn’t give Brett Favre enough weapons in the passing game.
The fact is Wolf did give Favre two wonderful weapons at receiver: Antonio Freeman and Andre Rison for the stretch run in 1996 en route to a resounding victory over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. That offseason Rison was sent on his way and the Packers failed to win another Super Bowl with Favre.
If this season has proved anything it’s that Rodgers can’t have too many weapons. A team can’t be hamstrung because it loses one player – its top receiver – going into a season. That’s why GM Ted Thompson needs to draft a perimeter receiver to complement Nelson. Who among Packers’ fans is willing to risk enduring another season of offensive struggles?
Clearly, it’s easier for a passing team such as Green Bay to replace a top runner than a receiver. The Packers are good enough to threaten to win Super Bowl 50 at every position save one: Receiver.
Furthermore, McCarthy insists on exasperating the problem by using a personnel grouping of one fullback (John Kuhn) and four receivers (Jared Abbrederis, James Jones, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb lined up in the backfield). It means two of his top offensive weapons – Lacy and Starks – aren’t even on the field at the same time.
Instead of finding a way to get Lacy and Starks on the field together, McCarthy figures out how to sit them both down. That isn’t the solution. Furthermore, the one viable weapon he does have – Cobb – is being wasted and placed at risk of injury in the backfield.
Rodgers isn’t happy with the offense’s production. When reporters told Rodgers that McCarthy said the team was where it needed to be the Packers’ quarterback ducked.
“I don’t want to speak for (McCarthy) on where the team is,” Rodgers said.
T.J. Lang told reporters there was definitely some frustration.
“We feel like we’re not playing up to our talent level a little bit. Hey, we won the game. We won the game by 10 points. We’re never going to be upset about that. I think we just feel like we need to be more consistent on offense. I know we put up 30 points. Our defense is really responsible for 14 of those.”
Rodgers was asked if he felt good about where the offense is at.
He replied, “No.”
That makes a bunch of us.
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 (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.