There is no such thing as an easy victory in the NFL, a lesson the Packers were forced to relearn after losing 31-26 at home to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Still, while no wins ever come easily, everything was set up for Green Bay to come out victorious. The Colts were reeling, coming off a brutal home loss to the Nick Foles-led Chiefs and desperate to stay afloat in a winnable division. They entered the day 31st in defensive DVOA, an all-encompassing metric that takes into account more than just yards allowed and points scored. Heading into the game, Indy had allowed the most sacks in the league and was missing two offensive line starters. None of it mattered: Jordan Todman took the opening kickoff untouched to the house, and the Packers were never truly able to recover from there.
The Packers aren’t healthy
This roster is nowhere close to healthy, with names like Eddie Lacy, Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, JC Tretter all out and Randall Cobb barely active – and the cracks are truly starting to show. Even with Nick Perry having the best season of his career, the defense isn’t the same without Clay there to create havoc in the offensive backfield. Dom Capers noticeably blitzed Luck throughout the day, and yet his defense still struggled to generate pressure against a talent-deficient offensive line. Green Bay only registered two sacks (Indy had three), and when it needed a sack at the most crucial point in the game, Andrew Luck was able to narrowly avoid Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s poor sack attempt, step up in the pocket and throw a game-sealing conversion to tight end Jack Doyle. It was that kind of day for the Packers.
It’s not fair to pin the loss on the defense – more on that below – but as mentioned above, the Colts pretty clearly have one of the worst offensive lines in the season. Green Bay came in tied for eighth in sacks, yet couldn’t register as many as the 18th-ranked Colts. With the pass rush not forcing Luck into enough tricky situations, his receivers had plenty of time to get open. With the Packers two starting cornerbacks on the sideline, the secondary was simply unable to contain speedster TY Hilton and chain-mover Donte Moncrief despite one of the best games of Ha Ha’s young career. Even slow-footed Jack Doyle was able to consistently get in on the action. Green Bay’s secondary needs to get healthy as soon as possible, which may prove difficult if Micah Hyde is forced to miss time. Hyde injured his shoulder in the second half of the game and didn’t return.
Poor special teams execution set the tone early
Jordan Todman’s kickoff return touchdown on the opening play was the result of extremely poor coverage by a middle of the pack special teams unit. Not only did it set the tone for the entire game, but it was the first in a series of mishaps. Mason Crosby is typically very reliable, yet he missed a 48-yard field goal wide left in the first quarter that had big ramifications in the end. Had Crosby converted the kick, Green Bay would’ve only been down one point (Green Bay would’ve had 27 but was ‘forced’ to go for two in the fourth quarter and couldn’t convert), and Mike McCarthy would’ve had a better idea of how to manage his timeouts with a closer score. From a psychological standpoint, it felt like the score had a big effect on Green Bay’s energy throughout the game. Instead of being down 14-6, only a one possession difference, Green Bay trailed 14-3 in the first half and felt like it had a much bigger mountain to climb. Aaron Rodgers openly complained about the team’s lack of energy after the game.
Because one long return isn’t enough, Todman had a 61-yard kickoff return later in the half that resulted in an easy Vinatieri field goal. Wipe off either return, and the entire game landscape changes. Punter Jacob Schum actually had a solid day, but he shanked a 31-yard punt that led to a huge Colts touchdown. With all of the injuries to this roster, along with the inconsistencies on offense, this team can’t afford to make the little mistakes on special teams. Speaking of inconsistent offense…
Offense struggles to develop a rhythm
At times it wasn’t pretty, but it felt like the Packers had developed a new identity on offense over the last two games. McCarthy had been using short, quick-hitter passes to offensive playmakers as a replacement for an ineffective running game, and it had let to 58 points in two games. The short drops and quick passes moved the chains, allowed Rodgers to get into a rhythm with his receivers, and hid the receivers’ glaring inability to beat man coverage. Rodgers numbers had been correspondingly significantly better over this small stretch. Then for no reason, the Packers completely abandoned this strategy in the first half and ran into the same results from earlier in the season. Ty Montgomery actually ran the ball well (seven carries for 53 yards), yet McCarthy didn’t run the ball and he and Rodgers didn’t throw it short. Feel familiar?
Just a slightly better performance could have meant the difference in the game. Yes, Crosby should’ve made the 48-yarder he missed, but that came off an interception where the Packers got negative one yards on three plays. Even just five more yards there (McCarthy didn’t run it once) could’ve made the difference. Luck and Co. marched down the field and scored a touchdown after the miss. Rodgers threw a pretty egregious interception in the second half while in deep field goal range, which is concerning, but overall he played well enough for Green Bay to win. He threw a perfect deep ball that clanked off Jeff Janis’ hands and wasn’t helped by McCarthy’s vanilla playcalling and Cobb’s absence/limitations. The biggest thing missing from this offense, besides better playcalling, is the deep Rodgers/Jordy connection that just isn’t there.
It’s a tired cliché, but it was apparent from watching that the Colts simply wanted the game more than Green Bay did. From the opening kickoff return, to better third down execution and just about everything in between, Indianapolis took an early lead and never looked back. And yet, the NFC North remains wide open, Cobb, Matthews, James Starks and Jared Cook are all on the mend, and Aaron Rodgers is still running the offense. Green Bay heads to Tennessee to take on the Titans this Sunday, desperately needing a bounce back win.