On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers officially became the only remaining undefeated team in the league after demolishing the St. Louis Rams 24-3. The win was more than convincing in the first half where Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, but even at 6-0, the Super Bowl Champs still have some problems to ponder ahead of the Minnesota Vikings this week.
I don’t think any of us expected the Packers to be flawless six games into the season, and Mike McCarthy has so far done an exceptional job correcting any early season issues on offense or defense.
What stands out above the rest though, is that the Packers still aren’t as great as they could be – yet.
Third Down Conversions
It’s not hard to guess how the Packers can solve their third down efficiency problems, because one look at the depth chart shows how many options Aaron Rodgers has to play with once Green Bay finally gets this thing figured out.
On Sunday though, the Packers were awful on third down – converting just four of thirteen attempts. This problem has been hiding in the background ever since last year’s NFC Championship Game, but you’d have every right to wonder how a team with five of the best receivers is having troubles moving the sticks.
What is truly worrying is that despite the Vikings laughable problems at the moment, Minnesota’s defense has successfully allowed just 38 of an attempted 86 third down conversions this season – and the Packers are next in line. Having receivers like Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley drop well timed catches doesn’t just aggravate Rodgers, either.
Talking about dropped catches, Donald Driver is in a stinker of a slump. It’s hard for me to get on him like this after you know, all he’s done for the Packers, but a dropped catch on the Packers first drive on Sunday showed how much age is in those 36-year old hands.
It’s not so much that Driver isn’t still the receiver he once was. It’s hard to leave out his brilliant play against St. Louis in the endzone when finding open space on a Rodgers scramble in the second quarter, yet those costly dropped catches are piling up like nobody’s business.
The worst part is Driver can’t afford to let those catches sail by, because his playing time may do the same. James Jones has exploded after sitting idle for the first month of the season, and Jordy Nelson’s 93-yard touchdown on Sunday speaks for itself.
Fourth Quarter Snooze
The Packers have been known for taking their finger off the pulse recently, and if the Rams weren’t minus a list of key players in Week 6, St. Louis could have made a game happen in the second half with better wide receiver options.
This problem is as much on the offense as it is the defense, especially since the Packers have been forced to make two big time stops already this year against Mark Ingram and Cam Newton.
The Packers defense has stepped up when it has mattered though, which has perhaps let this problem off the hook a little. Jarret Bush sealed the game winning pick last week against Atlanta, and a sack on Newton in Week 4 ended any Panthers momentum.
That same outcome can’t be relied on however, especially with the San Diego’s and Tampa Bays of the league coming up shortly.
Steven Jackson was apparently close to 100% fit on the weekend, and the double edged sword of Cadillac Williams combined, gashed the Packers defense for 120 of the 400-yards given up against the Rams.
Normally you’d be hard stretched to fault a team that allows just a field goal all game, but the Packers run defense has taken one step forward and two steps back this season, even if Clay Matthews has regained his speed. Green Bay were also great defensively in the redzone on Sunday, but Bradford passed for 321-yards – and injured safety Morgan Burnett had a rough game playing with an awkward club on his right hand.
If it wasn’t for the Rams dropped passes, the Packers defense could have been further humiliated at home, too. There’s clearly a good mindset on defense right now after Bradford was sacked three times. Cornerback Tramon Williams has also done his homework on third and fourth downs, but receivers continue to create separation down the sidelines.
And to make matters worse, things may get uglier now that…
…Sam Shields is injured, after trying to play the role of hero in the endzone. A back shoulder interception looked nice, but it would have been better if Shields hadn’t run across the endzone and been smacked in the face by a Rams defender.
A concussion later and sixth year player Jarrett Bush is now favored to take his spot this Sunday. That makes Shields, Nick Collins and Mike Neal inactive ahead of next week, thinning things even further on defense.
Yes, Dom Capers is a genius. But senseless injuries like this have to leave him shaking his head.
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