Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
11:30
AM ET
After the Green Bay Packers' 19-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, here are three issues that merit further examination:
    Head Exam
    Kevin SeifertFollowing their loss against the Chiefs, the Packers take a seat in the examination room.

  1. Here's what happened on the first two plays after the Packers lost rookie offensive lineman Derek Sherrod to a broken leg: Running back Ryan Grant ran into a brick wall in the middle of the line, managing no gain on second-and-10. And then, on third down, defensive lineman Allen Bailey beat substitute left guard Evan Dietrich-Smith for a nine-yard sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That's a concentrated example of what any team would fear when making massive in-game adjustments to their offensive line, and it's something the Packers will have in the back of their mind this week. Sherrod is out for the season, starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga is set to undergo an MRI on his knee and coach Mike McCarthy offered little hope that veteran Chad Clifton is in position to offer a quick fix. Sunday night against the Chicago Bears, center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton might be the only starters in their original Week 1 positions. You wonder at what point a line reaches critical mass in terms of changes.
  2. How did the Chiefs stifle the Packers' passing game? Mostly with extra coverage and a standard four-man pass rush. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chiefs used at least five defensive backs on 86 percent of the Packers' plays Sunday. On top of that, they sent four or less pass rushers on 78.6 of Rodgers' dropbacks. As a result, Rodgers completed only two of 12 passes downfield, defined as 15 or more yards past the line of scrimmage -- the worst completion percentage on such throws all year. The Packers had four dropped passes, but Rodgers also had a tough time getting the ball into the small windows afforded by Chiefs coverage. He either underthrew or overthrew 10 of his 35 passes. Say what you will about the drops and Greg Jennings' absence, but on a relative scale there is no doubt Rodgers played the worst game of his season.
  3. Referee Gene Steratore's crew called receiver Jordy Nelson for two offensive pass interference penalties in the first quarter. (One was declined.) Whenever you see a relatively rare penalty called on the same player in quick succession, it's reasonable to assume an opponent brought it to the attention of officials either before or during the game. McCarthy seemed to agree, saying: "Two quick calls like that? I would say it's uncommon. You don't see that very often." In fact, entering Week 15, offensive pass interference has been called 49 times across the league all season, according to ESPN Stats & Information's penalty database. That's an average of 3.5 for all games per week. Steratore's crew almost hit that in the first quarter of one game. You wonder how those calls impacted Nelson's aggressiveness thereafter. He caught two passes, his lowest total since Week 6, and both came in the fourth quarter.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
I'll admit to being surprised that the Packers lost Sunday. It was just two weeks ago, in fact, that I suggested they would finish 16-0 unless they benched their starters for meaningless games and/or self-destructed with a series of uncharacteristic mistakes. Neither happened Sunday, and I agreed with McCarthy when he said: "We were beaten today." Indeed, the Chiefs controlled the game throughout. In the end, however, the Packers did fall out of the template they had set for themselves during a 19-game winning streak. They didn't force a single turnover for the first time since, yes, their last defeat — in Week 15 of the 2010 season to the New England Patriots. They entered the game with an NFL-high 32 takeaways, including 27 interceptions. It wasn't quite a self-destruction, but it was a break from their pattern.

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