Even Rodgers might not save this season
November, 28, 2013
By Rob Demovsky | ESPN.com
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers haven't recorded a win since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.DETROIT -- The best throw Aaron Rodgers made in the past month -- the only throw, really -- came when he chucked his clipboard in disgust on Thursday.
It was early in the fourth quarter of the Thanksgiving debacle in Detroit, the fourth straight game the Green Bay Packers' MVP quarterback missed because of the broken collarbone he sustained on Nov. 4, and Rodgers had just watched running back Eddie Lacy run twice for a loss of 3 yards and a gain of 2.
It was third-and-11 from their own 19-yard line, and another series -- another game -- was going nowhere.
Even if Rodgers comes back for the Packers' next game, it will probably be too late. Thursday's 40-10 shellacking at the hands of the Lions was the Packers' fifth straight game without a victory. Since Rodgers left in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears nearly a month ago, the Packers have four losses and a tie to their credit.
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers will be looking for more aggression from safety Morgan Burnett in 2014.
With a 5-6-1 record, even Rodgers' return -- which seems likely when the Packers reconvene for their next game on Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons -- might not be enough to save a once-promising season.
"We haven't won a game without him in five weeks," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. "He's the best player on the team. Yeah we need him, but there's a lot more going on than just that."
That's for sure. But let's start with the quarterback carousel.
Matt Flynn, the third quarterback coach Mike McCarthy started since Rodgers went down, looked nothing like he did in relief of Scott Tolzien four days earlier when he helped bring the Packers back from a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit to tie the Minnesota Vikings.
Flynn, who once threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns against these same Lions, held the ball too long too often. His offensive line didn't help much, either. The Lions sacked Flynn seven times. Only two teams had more sacks in a game this season. Flynn was sacked on 25 percent of his 28 dropbacks, the highest single-game percentage against Packers quarterbacks since ESPN Stats & Information began recording that in 2006.
When the Packers took the field for their final series with four minutes, 12 seconds left in the game, they had 56 yards of total offense.
The Lions had 563 at that point. They would finish with 561 after two kneel-downs to end the game.
Flynn picked up 70 garbage yards on that final series, including a 56-yard pass to James Jones that helped him finish 10-of-20 passing for 139 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
"Probably the worst [expletive] offensive day in the history of the [expletive] Packers," offensive lineman T.J. Lang said. "It was bad. Didn't run the ball, didn't pass block. Give credit to those guys, man. They did a good job. We've got to take a long, hard look at what we're doing and find a way to get better. We've got four games left now."
That may not matter if the Packers' defense doesn't make an about face.
A run defense that ranked third in the NFL through Week 7 clearly isn't the same run defense. That, too, has crumbled in Rodgers' absence. The Lions rushed for 241 yards. Just like the Vikings did on Sunday, when Adrian Peterson rushed for 146 yards and Toby Gerhart added 91, the Lions nearly had two 100-yard rushers. Reggie Bush ran for 117 yards, and Joique Bell added 94.
In the past two weeks, defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit has allowed 473 yards rushing. In the first six games of the season, the Packers allowed just 474 yards rushing.
While criticism of Capers surely will intensify after this performance, McCarthy -- who strongly supported Capers publicly last week -- had another answer.
"Scheme is not a crutch," McCarthy said. "When you're in run defense, you play with leverage. You've got to get off the damn block and tackle the ball carrier. So you can cut it any way you want and we're not doing that right now. We haven't done that in a month."
Capers' defense forced four turnovers -- two interceptions and two fumbles -- and gave the Packers their only touchdown of the game on Morgan Burnett's 1-yard return of a fumble forced by Nick Perry in the second quarter, and it didn't matter a bit.
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsMatt Flynn struggled against the Lions, completing 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards. He was sacked seven times, including once for a safety.
Those on the offensive side of the locker room took the blame for the defensive woes.
"They got four turnovers, and we didn't do anything," Sitton said.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers' 126 yards of total offense was their lowest since Nov. 19, 2006, when they had just 120 yards in a 35-0 loss to the New England Patriots -- a game in which Brett Favre left with an elbow injury and Rodgers broke his foot.
Even that last drive, the one that accounted for more than half of the Packers' total yardage, ended in disaster when Flynn fumbled the snap from Lang, who moved from right guard to center after Evan Dietrich-Smith left because of a second-quarter knee injury.
It was Flynn's second lost fumble of the day. After his first, which came on a strip sack by Lions defensive end Devin Taylor in the third quarter, McCarthy threw his play sheet down in disgust.
"You saw that huh?" McCarthy said.
There was plenty of bad football to digest, and we haven't even talked about the abysmal tackling on special teams.
How much of it can be solved by Rodgers' return?
Surely he can fix the offense.
But can he cure the defensive woes and help save Capers' job?
If so, it just might keep coaches and quarterbacks from throwing things on the sidelines.