Sports

A– Against the Wall: Packers Season on the Brink

Mike McCarthy didn’t mince words Sunday night.

“We understand clearly what’s in front of us,” the Packers head coach said after his team’s 42-24 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. “Six losses puts your ass against the wall, and that’s where we are.”

After a bizarre week during which multiple media outlets reported on how the allegedly strained nature of Aaron Rodgers’s personal and family relationships could be affecting his play, the Packers quarterback was quite possibly the only bright spot in the team’s fourth consecutive loss. Rodgers recovered nicely after a sluggish start, completing 26 of 41 passes for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing with 33 yards. The first of his three touchdown passes was what most would call vintage Rodgers; after sliding up in the pocket and having his helmet twisted due to a facemask, he fired a bullet to Jordy Nelson in the back of the endzone. Even his finesse game reappeared against Washington, particularly on two lofted throws to Jared Cook along the sideline. For his part, Rodgers did just about everything he could to help the Packers win.

And then there was every other facet of the team. Just a week after being sliced and diced by a Titans offense led by a second-year quarterback, the Packers defense was absolutely eviscerated by Washington signal caller Kirk Cousins. Washington gained 515 yards of offense, including 364 through the air. Cousins exposed the Packers depleted secondary all night, using all parts of the field in the process. Quick-hitting boundary plays, check. Tight ends running wide open in the middle of the field, check. Wideouts streaking right past Packer defenders on 9-routes, double check. Whenever there was a play to be made in the passing game, Cousins made it, and the Packers fell flat on their collective face.

Sunday’s loss marked the first time since 1950 a Green Bay team has given up 40 points in back to back contests and the first time since 1953 they’ve given up 30 points in four straight. The Packers now sit at an extremely troubling 4-6 on the season, and if we are to trust history, it seems as though they will have to win their last six games to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. While a run-the-table scenario certainly isn’t impossible, it seems highly improbable based on what Green Bay has put on tape over their four-game losing streak. So, where do the Packers go from here?

Chief among the laundry list of problems is finding a way to field a suitable defensive unit. Without Sam Shields and Damarious Randall, the Packers stable of cornerbacks has become alarmingly thin, and became even more so Sunday night when Demitri Goodson suffered what Mike McCarthy called a “significant injury.” Cousins and the Redskins burned the Packers on touchdown completions of 44 and 70 yards, and a WR-LB matchup led to a 53-yarder which set them up at the Green Bay 1-yard line. Randall may be close to returning, but even that isn’t guaranteed to make as big a difference as the Packers need.

The injury bug also struck the linebacking corps again Sunday night, with Blake Martinez leaving the game due to a knee injury. Jake Ryan, who had been starting alongside Martinez all year on the interior, was sidelined in the Redskins game because of an ankle injury. Their statuses are relatively unknown at this point, but having to play without both would present a scenario in which we may see Clay Matthews reprise his role as inside linebacker. The impact of Matthews return to action Sunday night was obvious early on, as he drew focus from the Redskins offense and appeared to make things a little bit easier on his teammates.

It’s easy to stick to the “next man up” and “injuries are no excuse” narratives, but there is absolutely no denying the injuries sustained by the Packers on defense have been devastating. Those injuries, combined with a lack of fundamental execution, have crippled a defensive unit that started the year as strong as any in football. If you need an example, look no further than the Packers use of their secondary in pressure packages. When the front seven aren’t generating a pass rush, Dom Capers often turns to safety and corner blitzes, in what essentially amounts to a “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario. This becomes especially troublesome when key spots in the secondary are occupied by reserves, who in turn are put in one-on-one spots and have rarely won those battles.

Offensively, it feels like we’ve been talking about the same things for the better part of five years – i.e. the lack of a strong running game allowing opposing defenses to play however they want. Eddie Lacy, when he’s healthy, has stemmed those problems somewhat. Unfortunately for the Packers, they simply have not been able to find a legitimate answer when Lacy isn’t healthy. The offensive struggles have been discussed thoroughly and endlessly since the week seven debacle in Denver last season. Rodgers doesn’t trust his receivers like he used to. He’s dropping his eyes too early. The receivers can’t create separation. The list goes on and on. If Sunday night was any indication, Rodgers still has the ability to make the offense great, it just has to happen on a much more consistent basis. As for that running game, well, who knows? James Starks still seems incapable of running forward unless he is completely alone in the open field. Will Christine Michael get his shot against Philadelphia next Monday night? If so, will he make a difference? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s sure worth a shot.

Hell, pretty much anything is at this point.