Mike McCarthy's play calling couldn't fix all that ails Packers' offense

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you thought Mike McCarthy’s decision to reclaim play-calling duties would return the Green Bay Packers to offensive juggernaut status, it was probably wishful thinking.

Yes, McCarthy made a clear commitment to the running game in his first game since taking the job back from associate head coach Tom Clements -- the Packers responded with 230 rushing yards -- and they were able to move the ball at times Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. But in other ways, it looked like the same offense that came into the game ranked 22nd in the league.

They still couldn’t convert third-and-1 plays after back-to-back touchdown drives in the second quarter, and they punted on four straight drives (including two drives without a single first down) before they finally scored again. It was enough to pull away late from the punchless Cowboys. However, the game was much closer than the 28-7 score indicated.

It was a run-heavy plan by McCarthy. Of the Packers’ first 40 plays, exactly half of them were runs. The 20 rushes were their most in a first half this season. It included 11 by Eddie Lacy, his most in a first half this season. It also helped Aaron Rodgers in the play-action game. He attempted 11 play-action passes in the first half alone, tied for his most in a game this season. Rodgers threw two play-action touchdown passes in the first half. The Packers had two touchdown drives in the first half for the first time since Week 6.

What it means: At 9-4, the Packers lead the NFC North by one game over the Minnesota Vikings, who still have to come to Lambeau Field for the regular-season finale on Jan. 3.

What were they thinking? Apparently, the Packers felt as though receiver Ty Montgomery wasn't ready to make his return. Montgomery practiced all week and appeared on track to play for the first time since he sprained his ankle on Oct. 18, but instead he was inactive.

One reason to get excited: Rodgers found a way to get Randall Cobb more involved. Cobb finished with eight catches for 81 yards. He hadn't caught more than six in a game since Week 3. Cobb caught six of seven targets, his most first-half receptions this season. Coming in, Rodgers had completed 58.8 percent of his passes to Cobb this season, the lowest of their careers, according to ESPN Stats & Info research.

One reason to panic: The Packers still can’t seem to get one yard when they need it. They came into the game converting just half of their third-and-1 plays this season, a percentage that ranked tied for 30th in the NFL. On the Packers’ second drive, Starks was stuffed for no gain on third-and-goal from the 1, and Rodgers couldn’t get in on a sneak on fourth-and-goal. They also failed to convert one in the third quarter, when Rodgers threw incomplete to fullback John Kuhn.

Fantasy watch: One game after he was demoted for a curfew violation, Lacy got his starting job back. However, Starks found the end zone twice. He scored on a 13-yard swing pass in the second quarter and put the game away with a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Lacy had a late rushing touchdown as well.

Game ball: Lacy and Starks provided the kind of one-two punch in the running game that McCarthy has wanted all season. They combined for 195 yards on 35 carries. Lacy had 124 yards on 24 carries, and Starks added 71 on 11 carries.

Ouch: The Packers lost cornerback Sam Shields in the first half to a concussion.

What’s next: The Packers now play consecutive road games at Oakland and at Arizona before the regular-season finale against Minnesota on Jan. 3.