Most people watching the Packers’ loss to the New Orleans Saints would argue that this was clearly a winnable game. With the defense producing two first quarter turnovers, an Aaron Rodgers-led offense would surely be able to capitalize on these turnovers and build a momentous lead that would lead to victory. Instead, the Packers lost 26-17 as Brett Hundley and Co. struggled generate any semblance of an attack in the second half. Let’s take a look at key positives and a few negatives from this week’s loss as the team heads into their Week 8 bye.
RB Aaron Jones: With Aaron Rodgers on the shelf for the foreseeable future, Packer Nation knew that the rest of the team had to collectively step up in order for the Packers to make yet another postseason push. Jones was the prime example of this notion as he practically carried the offense on his back all afternoon with 17 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown, to go with three receptions. Unfortunately, Jones was the lone bright spot in the offense this week and he will need to continue to shine in order for the Packers to have a chance week in and week out. Look for Jones to continue to maintain hold of the backfield and hopefully open up more passing lanes for Hundley in the future.
Injuries: One aspect that seems to be lost from this weekend’s defeat is that this team is slowly starting to turn things around regarding their injury report. SS Morgan Burnett and LG Lane Taylor were the only starters who were held out from the game this weekend, and only ILB Jake Ryan (migraine) left the game and did not return. OT’s David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga were able to make it through the game with no setbacks, and C Corey Linsley played in full as well after being considered questionable heading into the matchup. This team can look forwarding to hitting their bye in stride regarding health and can turn their focus on to figuring out an offensive gameplan to cater towards Hundley’s strengths.
RB Ty Montgomery: Since suffering a rib injury against the Chicago Bears a few weeks back, Montgomery is slowly but surely having his role reduced due to Aaron Jones’s emergence in the Green Bay backfield. Montgomery definitely still has a role in this offense, especially later down the stretch, however the Packers need to ride the hot hand in Jones and let him carry this offense as long as he proves to be effective. Montgomery is a great example of someone who needs to step up in this offense with the absence of Rodgers, and hopefully he can work out what he needs to in order to get back to being the type of threat he proved to be the first two weeks of this season.
HC Mike McCarthy: Packer fans have always cautiously wondered if McCarthy truly was a great head coach, or if he has been a huge benefactor from Aaron Rodgers’ astronomical talents. This week definitely did not help his cause, as he looked totally outmatched by New Orlean’s defense. McCarthy spend all week preaching how “Hundley was his quarterback” and that he has “three years invested in him” for this very reason, yet come game-time he appeared to do everything in his power to avoid cutting Hundley loose. McCarthy’s predictable play-calling led to some poor third down conversion attempts and game clock management to close out the first half. If McCarthy truly believes in Hundley, he needs to let him take more risks and learn from them in order to keep defenses honest and make plays with his legs more often. Granted, this was only one week, one game plan to go by, but if McCarthy doesn’t get his offense straightened out after the bye and beyond, critics will definitely start to call him out as simply a beneficiary of Rodgers aforementioned talents.
The Defense: In most cases, I try to single out just a single player or unit that needs to step up his game, but in the second half the entire defense played poorly from top to bottom. With the defense only missing one key player, versatile safety Morgan Burnett, the expectation was that this group would be able to step up to the task of slowing down Drew Brees and the potent New Orleans offense. After two first-quarter interceptions, it looked like this was the case and that Green Bay had a good chance to win this game. However, this took a dramatic turn for the worse in the second half as the defense seemed completely unable to get the offense off the field and surrendered big play after big play. Ultimately, New Orleans put up 324 yards through the air and 161 yards on the ground in total, to go with 19 points in the second half. If Green Bay want to have any chance of making a playoff push this year, the defense needs to step up, play like they did in the first quarter, and do a better job forcing opposing offenses off the field late in the game.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com