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Monday, October 8, 2012
Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

By Kevin Seifert

After the Green Bay Packers' 30-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, here are three issues that merit further examination:
  1. Free Head Exam
    The Packers will take second looks at injuries to tailback Cedric Benson (foot), nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle) and tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder) in the coming days. But to me, the Benson injury had the biggest impact on Sunday's game. Coach Mike McCarthy clearly didn't trust back Alex Green with the original game plan. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers dropped back to pass on 30 of their 44 plays after Benson departed in the second quarter. Prior to the injury, they had a nearly even split (nine passes in 17 plays). This season, the Packers' offense has been at its best when McCarthy keeps his play calling relatively even. It's no coincidence that Rodgers was sacked five times and forced to scramble on four other drop backs after Benson departed. If he has a long-term injury, you wonder if James Starks will re-emerge as the Packers' lead runner. The Packers simply haven't found success as a pass-only offense this season.
  2. We noted last week that the Packers avoided the onset of "Snowball Effect," refusing to allow a Week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks to become the start of a bad run. But after opening a three-game road swing with a loss, the Packers are facing a tough prospect: They'll have to defeat the currently 4-0 Houston Texans next Sunday night to avoid a two-game losing streak that would leave them at 2-4. Plenty of people are referencing the Packers' 2009 turnaround, but let's not forget they were 4-2 and then 4-4 before finishing the season on a 7-1 run. This team is still capable of big things, but for the second time in the first five weeks of the season, it's facing the possibility of falling two games below .500. If they are 2-4, the Packers will have to finish at least 7-3 to be in the playoff conversation at the end of the season.
  3. The sudden NFL-wide accuracy on long-distance field goals has skewed our expectations for place-kickers. Just a few years ago, a 50-plus yard attempt to tie or win a game would have been considered desperate. Now, many of us expected Mason Crosby to trot onto the field Sunday and drill his 51-yard attempt to tie at the end of regulation. You would hope that a veteran like Crosby would make it closer than he did on what was clearly a mis-hit ball, but I find more fault elsewhere for this defeat. You can start with the failure to run one more play to get Crosby a little closer. Still, here are the facts: Subtracting Crosby's two misses Sunday from beyond 50 yards, NFL placekickers are hitting almost 75 percent of similar attempts (29-of-39) this season.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Is the Packers' defense substantially improved from last season? Through five games, I'm not sure we can answer that question. It has had two dominating performances, in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears and the following week against the Seahawks. On the other hand, the Packers have allowed a 446-yard game to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and a 125.6 passer rating to the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (362 yards) torched them throughout Sunday's game, and on his final drive he completed four of five downfield passes. That's 808 passing yards allowed in the past two games. Is it that the Packers still can't compete against good quarterbacks but have taken better advantage of poor performers (or performances)? Is it a reflection of their youth? I don't know, but the Packers will need to even it out if they intend to make the playoffs. Their offense might not be able to bail them out in 2012.