Alarm bells will surely be ringing loud and clear in north-eastern Wisconsin today, after a diabolical home field loss for the Green Bay Packers against the Dallas Cowboys, 30-16.
The Packers lost the battle convincingly on both sides of the football, as the offense struggled and spluttered, whilst the former number one run defense was chewed up and spat out by rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys set the tone on the first drive of the game, with an 8 play touchdown drive that laid a platform of domination for the rest of the match. From the outset Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott was well protected by Dallas’ all-star offensive line, repeatedly hitting his favorite targets, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley.
The Packers lack of serviceable cornerbacks became apparent in the early stages, with Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins inactive and Demarius Randall forced out mid-game, the Packers’ secondary struggled to match up with the Cowboys’ receivers even without Dez Bryant on board.
On defense, the Cowboys were barely able to cobble together any sort of pass rush, and yet their corners were able to contain the Packers’ receivers, leaving a frustrated Rodgers bouncing around the pocket.
The Cowboys thoroughly deserved their win on Sunday afternoon, controlling the clock and field position on offense, whilst strangling the Packers receivers on defense, and eliminating the Packers deep passing game. The ‘Boys’ now hold the outright lead in the NFC East, but in truth the real story from this game lies in Green Bay with a team that has regressed substantially over the past 12 months.
Since his MVP performance in Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers has been the most elite and consistent quarterback in the NFL. His arm and pinpoint accuracy, combined with his pocket movement and escapability is unmatched in the history of the league. His quarterback passer rating is the highest in history (103.5), as is his touchdown/interception ratio.
Last year injuries ravaged his supporting cast, the most notable loss being wide receiver Jordy Nelson. It resulted in a fractured year for the Pack, a substantial drop in Rodgers’ numbers and the loss of their division title to Minnesota. Coming into 2016, with those around him healthy it was assumed that the Packers’ offense would return spectacularly to its glory of 2010-2014 era. But it hasn’t been the case.
Rodgers who posted career low numbers last year in completion percentage, yards per pass and passer rating has so far seen these numbers drop even further over the opening 6 weeks of this season. He doesn’t have the excuses that 2015 offered; his offensive line is currently the number one pass blocking unit in the league, offering him time that other quarterbacks can only dream of (Andrew Luck!). Furthermore his targets are healthy, not beaten up or on injured reserve. Jordy Nelson’s return it was assumed would be the tonic to the offense’s ailment. However the 31 year old veteran so far isn’t the elite deep field weapon that he was back in 2014.
It was just assumed that the dots would be connected and business would resume as usual. If the Packers are to keep in range of division leaders, Minnesota they’ll need to turn things around immediately.
For a short term solution, perhaps a greater emphasis on the running game could help to relieve pressure. Eddie Lacy although hot and cold can be a game breaker. However in the long term, if this season does indeed go down the drain without any substantial improvement, then the Packers will need to make substantial offseason moves. Head Coach Mike McCarthy could very well be shown the door, his somewhat dubious play-calling has raised eyebrows multiple times over the last three years and he would be the most likely scapegoat.
Green Bay have been blessed with one of the most naturally talented and athletic quarterbacks of all time. Rodgers remains in the prime of his career, yet over the past twelve months there’s been a clear and definite decline in his level of play. It’s certainly not an irreversible trend, but the Pack would be well advised to upend this current position and take maximum advantage of a franchise quarterback. Players like Aaron Rodgers only come round once in a generation, if you’re lucky.