Another week, another demoralizing Green Bay Packers loss. This time it came in the form of a 45-27 beating by the Tennessee Titans, a team whose trajectory is in stark contrast to that of the Packers. Green Bay has now lost three straight – falling to third place in the NFC North – and plays two road games in primetime over the next two weeks. Tennessee, meanwhile, has won four of its last six games and jumped to second in its division.
Just after quarterback Aaron Rodgers lamented his team’s lack of energy the previous Sunday, Green Bay again gave up a first quarter energy-sapping touchdown that set the tone for the day. Tennessee jumped out to an absurd 21-0 lead in the first quarter, which apparently is historically bad. Though the offense valiantly battled back, the defense never gave them a fighting shot; it was easily Green Bay’s worst game of the season. The loss not only leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans and players alike, but it has large implications for the rest of the season.
If you’d like to save yourself time, feel free to read last week’s game summary. Clearly, Green Bay’s players and coaches didn’t learn anything from losing to the Colts at home.
Defensive cracks finally burst open
Honestly, this game has been a long time coming. Without top cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall and elite pass rusher Clay Matthews, Green Bay’s pass defense has been troublesome all year long. Still, while giving up big plays have been this unit’s Achilles heel, it often played just well enough to keep the Packers in the game. That was no longer the case on Sunday, as second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota ripped Green Bay for 295 yards and four touchdowns on only 26 passing attempts. Even running back DeMarco Murray threw a ten-yard touchdown pass to get in on the action. Because why not.
The Packers still managed two sacks on the day, but for most of the afternoon Mariota sat back comfortably in the pocket, trusting his receivers to win on their routes and get open, which they did almost at will. There were breakdowns in zone coverage, players bumping into each other on crossing routes, and nobody seemed capable of tackling Delanie Walker. Four Titans receivers had catches of at least 32 yards on the day.
Earlier this year, I wrote that Green Bay had the best run defense in the league, which, at the date of publishing, it was statistically. In hindsight, it now looks more like a mirage fueled by facing poor run offenses than the result of an elite rush defense. While this part of the defense is still solid, holding the Jaguars, Vikings, Giants, Bears and Lions to poor rushing performance is now the norm for most defenses. But when teams who like to run the ball down the other team’s throat are in town, like the Cowboys and the Titans, this group shows its true colors and gives up too many big plays. With the pass defense reeling and the pass rush slowing down, this unit is becoming more vulnerable by the day. When will Clay Matthews return?
Insult to injury: Three Packers left the game and were unable to return
For Tennessee, a team that had five combined wins over the last two seasons, sitting at 5-5 is a comfortable place nobody thought it’d be in. Meanwhile, Green Bay sits at 4-5 after coming into the season as a heavy Super Bowl contender. Tellingly, each team’s injury situation serves as a microcosm for the two contrasting trajectories. Tennessee entered the game with one minor defensive player on the injury report, and he even suited up. Green Bay, meanwhile, was without the aforementioned defenders, starting lineman JC Tretter, running back Eddie Lacy and tight end Jared Cook, while James Starks, Randall Cobb, TJ Lang, Micah Hyde and Quinten Rollins all came into the game hobbled to varying degrees.
That would just be the beginning. Green Bay’s leading tackler Jake Ryan went down with an ankle injury on the Packers first punt, and his loss was clearly felt in the running game. TJ Lang, arguably Green Bay’s most consistent contributor, also left the game with an ankle injury. He was spotted on crutches and in a walking boot on the sideline. Since that wasn’t enough, left tackle David Bakhtiari also left the game with an ankle injury. None of them would return. After seemingly getting healthier with Starks returning, Cook close and Cobb getting back to full health, yesterday was a punch to the gut for a roster full of holes.
Davante Adams might actually be pretty good after all
The offensive numbers were fine in the passing game, but it’s tough to put up enough points to win when the defense can’t get off the field and special teams continue to make mistakes. It’s harder to evaluate the offense when the other team is in prevent defense and the offensive line gets called for holding on seemingly every running play, but the Packers didn’t lose because of the passing game. In fact, the sole positive takeaway was Davante Adams’ continued surge.
I’m a believer in Adams natural talent. He was an absolute monster in college, came up big in clutch situations as a rookie, and possesses an elite vertical jump. Still, after last year’s lost season, many were willing to write him off heading into this year. Yesterday Adams had six catches for an eye-popping 156 yards, and it felt like he was the only Packer fired up to play. His hands have improved, his routes are crisper, and he’s sneakily becoming a big threat after the catch. He was Green Bay’s best player yesterday and continues to get better with each coming week. There’s not a lot to be happy about in Packerland, but Adams’ rise is one of the brighter storylines of the season.
Even though Rodgers played pretty well, Green Bay was never really in this game due to injuries, awful defense, poor playcalling and 16 uncharacteristic penalties. It’s clear this team has to improve in every stage of the game in order to compete for a playoff spot, but it’s not clear if this team is actually, well, good. Thankfully, the Vikings seem allergic to winning the division, and Green Bay still has a game with the Lions and Vikings to gain ground in the North. While playoff hopes are very much alive statistically, it will take some serious internal improvement and evaluation to correct all that is ailing the Packers. There is no one answer, but a deep realignment must occur at every level. Mike McCarthy continues to get outcoached and yet refuses to change anything about this team’s strategy and playcalling. His clock might be ticking in Green Bay if this team can’t right the ship.
Green Bay’s next test will be on the road against the Washington Football Club, this coming Sunday at 7:30 PM.